By Karen Feng
The Bank of the West Classic, the oldest women’s-only tournament in the world, kicked off the U.S. Open Series last week from July 9 to 15 on the Taube Family Tennis Stadium outdoor hardcourts. In addition to featuring tennis legends such as defending champion recent Wimbledon winner No. 4 Serena Williams and France’s No. 10 Marion Bartoli, the Classic gave wild-card berths to Stanford players Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette.
Last Tuesday, the two teammates won their first-round matches. Gibbs defeated Thailand’s No. 162 Noppawan Lertcheewakarn in straight sets 6-4, 6-4, while Burdette defeated Britain’s No. 77 Anne Keothavong 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Both Cardinal players were defeated in the second-round singles and doubles matches. On July 11, Williams overpowered Gibbs 6-2, 6-1 in the singles day match, while Burdette failed to take a couple of set points against Bartoli on July 12 despite an early lead of 5-2 and 40-15 in the eighth game of the first set. Bartoli eventually beat the Cardinal senior 7-5, 6-0, and the Stanford pair was also defeated during that evening’s doubles match by third-seeded Natalie Grandin and Vladimira Uhlirova 7-6(5), 3-6, 10-6.
During the July 14 semifinal singles day matches, No. 120 Coco Vandeweghe played in her first ever WTA semifinal after defeating No. 29 Jelena Jankovic, a former world No. 1, in the second round. Vandeweghe had originally failed to qualify for the tournament but entered the main draw when Bojana Jovanovski withdrew with an injury, making Vandeweghe a so-called “lucky loser.”
A strong start to the Vandeweghe in the semifinal gave her the advantage as she took the first set against fifth-seeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer, the world No. 31, 6-2. Despite losing the second set 3-6, Vandeweghe gained momentum with powerful serves and consistent groundstrokes, while a frustrated Wickmayer drew a warning for swearing, giving away the last set 2-6 with a double fault at set point. Vandeweghe walked away from the match—which lasted over two hours—with a total of 12 aces and a serve over 120 mph.
With her win, Vandeweghe became the first lucky loser ever to advance to the final at the Bank of the West Classic.
During the evening match, first-seeded Williams decisively defeated ninth-seeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-1, 6-2 in 60 minutes, despite making just 37 percent of her first serves. Williams struggled early against Cirstea’s powerful serves but was also more successful with ball control, facing only one break point as Cirstea committed 32 unforced errors.
In the doubles day match, the No. 9 team of Australian Jarmila Gajdosova and American Vania King defeated sisters Yung-Jan Chan and Hao-Ching Chan from Taipei in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3. During the evening match, third seeds Natalie Grandin of South Africa and Vladimira Uhlirova of the Czech Republic struggled in a close match against first-time partners Marina Erakovic of New Zealand and Heather Watson of Britain. Erakovic and Watson took just over two hours to win 7-5, 6-7(6), 10-7, with Watson advancing to her first ever WTA final.
Watson and Erakovic went on to play King and Gajdosova at 5 p.m. on July 15. Watson and Erakovic broke three times and won the first set 7-5, but struggled early in the second set. The closely matched doubles teams held on during the tiebreak, but Watson and Erakovic pulled away at the last minute to win 7-6 (7).
The same day at 1 p.m., 20-year-old Vandweghe played in her first ever WTA final against 42-time WTA titleholder Williams in the first all-American final in eight years on American soil. Although Williams seemed poised to cruise to victory, leading 2-0 in the first set, Vandeweghe put up a fight and took a 5-3 lead in the set as Williams struggled on the sunny side of the court. However, Williams overcame the next set point with a cross-court return that Vandeweghe hardly touched, and the recent Wimbledon champ watched as Vandeweghe again double-faulted to give up the set on the sixth break point. A double fault gave Williams the set point at 6-5, and she sent Vandeweghe running with a cross-court shot to win 7-5.
In the second set, Vandeweghe again double-faulted on break point, giving Williams the lead 3-1. Williams closed the match 6-3 with a forehand winner.
Despite her loss, Vandeweghe was pleased with her performance.
“Making the finals, beating the players I beat, getting the experience of playing Serena is a breakthrough in itself,” Vandeweghe said. “It makes me feel like all those days on the practice court, all that hard work wasn’t just for show. It’s paying off.”
Williams was also impressed with Vandeweghe’s performance.
“Coco played so well,” Williams said. “Her serve is really strong, but she was doing everything well out there. Her strokes are beautiful.”
Vandeweghe is now ranked No. 69 in the world and plays this week at the Mercury Insurance Open in Carlsbad, Calif., while Williams prepares for the Olympic Games.