MADRID, Spain - CoCo Vandeweghe advanced to her first Premier Mandatory quarterfinal on Thursday and, to the surprise of many, that milestone came on clay. The big-hitting American followed up her strong three-set win over Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion Laura Siegemund by ousting another clay-court stalwart, Carla Suárez Navarro, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 in the third round.
Vandeweghe's prowess is a proven commodity on hardcourt and grass. Earlier this year she made her first major semifinal at the Australian Open, beating defending champion Angelique Kerber along the way. Prior to that, her best major result came with a quarterfinal run at Wimbledon in 2015 and a title at the Ricoh Open in 's-Hertogenbosch last year.
"I keep hearing that clay court is a beneficial surface for my game," Vandeweghe said in Madrid. "I have yet to see it. I keep getting texts from [US Fed Cup captain] Kathy Rinaldi, "I told you clay's going to be your surface," and I'm like "You screwed me at Fed Cup, what are you talking about?" she said, laughing.
"We were joking that I finally got into double-digits into main draw WTA wins after four years. I don't think I've ever been terrible on clay I've just been very unlucky in who I was playing. Last year I played Lucie Safarova in the first round here. In Rome I played Venus Williams. I won a round at the French Open and then played a great match against Irina-Camelia Begu.
"It's not like I'm a terrible player on clay but I have definitely not been successful."
To beat Siegemund and Suárez Navarro, Vandeweghe said she simply applied her typical hardcourt game to clay. In Madrid's altitude, her serve has more speed and kick, and her heavy groundstrokes skid through the court with a heinous bite. She has continued to attack the net as well - sometimes with scant success - but that aggressive mindset keeps the pressure on her opponents as she dares them to pass her.
"I don't ever feel on other surfaces that I'm rushed," Vandeweghe explained, when asked about how the clay impacts her game. "When I come here and I have so much time to do things, it's almost a detriment. I start thinking I can do so many things. I can hit here or over there, maybe I'll hit a slice or a drop shot. It's more about having the time for me seeing it, not my strokes.
"I play very well on fast surfaces and not so well on slow hardcourts because I have so much time. The slower the surface the more I can outthink myself in a point, which I think a lot of players can attest to."
Vandeweghe has a tough test on Thursday against one of the game's premier clay-courters, defending champion Simona Halep. It will be her first meeting against the wily Romanian, who has needed three sets to get past Roberta Vinci and Sam Stosur.
"I'm still going to stick to my game of hitting big and moving forward," Vandeweghe said. "If the clay helps me, like it does here in the altitude - it's certainly going to help me more here than heavier conditions like in Prague. I'm never going to be good on those. It gives them too many opportunities to keep the points going.
"But who knows? Maybe I'll win my first clay title on a slow, heavy court. Crazier things have happened."