It wasn’t long ago, CoCo Vandeweghe contemplated quitting tennis. Injury prone and fed up, she had lost perspective.

In 2020, as she was attempting to play her way back into form, Vandeweghe lost in the first round of the WTA 125K event in Indian Wells. After the loss, she was told she would not be getting a main-draw wildcard into the BNP Paribas Open. 

"I sat down with my coach [Craig Kardon] and I was like, 'I don't want to do this,'" Vandeweghe said. "I don't want to play anymore. I'm not having fun. This is not enjoyable for me.”

Kardon listened.  

“He was there through the thick of it, of seeing me cry and seeing me be happy, he was seeing it all,” Vandeweghe said. "I was sitting on that lawn where the players do the warm-ups and I was super serious.

"He said, let's talk in two days. And then Covid hit." 

Now 29, Vandeweghe is slowly putting her injury woes behind her as she tends to unfinished business on the court. 

Photo by WTA/Jimmie48

On Wednesday, Vandeweghe beat Olga Govortsova 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of Wimbledon, her first win at a Grand Slam since the 2019 French Open.

After an outstanding 2017 season in which she made the semifinals of the Australian Open and US Open and finished in the Top 10, Vandeweghe suffered a foot injury in 2018 that led to being diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Then came a freak accident last summer after World Team Tennis. Vandeweghe took a hot bowl of soup out of the microwave and the bowl exploded, slicing two ligaments in her left fingers and severing a nerve. This led to the first surgery of her career.

"Wimbledon was the start of my injury life," Vandeweghe said after the victory. "I came into 2018 Wimbledon and I lost on No.2 or No.3 Court to Siniakova. In the third set, [I was] running around on basically a lame foot and couldn't get it done. I just continued to play injured on it for months and months on end and that basically caught on to the CRPS. 

"So I'm kind of conquering demons here at Wimbledon. I definitely had a big smile on my face after today's win."

Now ranked No.163 in singles, Vandeweghe has enjoyed a fruitful grass season. Playing in just her fifth tour-level main draw of the year, the big-serving American advanced to the Birmingham semifinals as a qualifier two weeks ago, her first WTA semifinal since 2018 s'Hertogenbosch.

Vandeweghe said she's still trying to get to full dexterity and strength in her left hand and scar tissue that needs to be worked out. As she holds her left hand up, her pinkie finger looks partially clenched. She wasn't able to grip her racquet properly until late November. When the weather turns cold her left hand still aches, she said.

"The biggest issue was the nerve that I had severed," Vandeweghe said. "Every time a vibration would hit the racquet, it would just zing me. I was getting shocked every time, so that was annoying. But finally, it subsided."

Even before her debilitating hand injury, Vandeweghe's future was in doubt. Having finally recovered from the foot injury that sidelined her for 10 months, Vandeweghe returned to the tour two years ago in San Jose ranked outside the Top 500. She dropped down to play ITFs with good success, finishing that season by making the final of the Oracle Challenger Series in Houston. 

"I sat down with my coach and I was like, I don't want to do this. I don't want to play anymore."

But as Vandeweghe continued to put her game back together, Covid hit. With the tour shutdown, she returned home to San Diego. Lockdown life was not a struggle the Californian. Throughout her career, Vandeweghe has reveled in her ability to completely unplug from tennis when she returns home and with her brother Beau moving in, Vandeweghe quickly found herself in the middle of the fraternity row life she never lived.  

"I definitely enjoyed myself," Vandeweghe said. "I played drinking games I never played before because my brother had moved in with me. I play all my drinking games left-handed, I know that now.

"But in all seriousness, it was a nice break for me to not be a tennis player, not be an athlete, not be anything. And then when I started to work out just to keep sane through Covid, going for runs and things like that, I still didn't want to play tennis."

"I just didn't feel validated for the success that I had and I felt like I was getting shafted in a way. My ego was getting the better of me."

Vandeweghe would occasionally drop by private courts in Rancho Santa Fe and hit with local juniors and friends for fun, but the motivation to fully rededicate to the life of a professional athlete was low.
 
"Everything I accomplished just got pushed to the wayside," Vandeweghe said. "I didn't feel validated by anyone and I was searching for validation from outside forces, whether it was WTA or USTA or even my family. I just didn't feel validated for the success that I had and I felt like I was getting shafted in a way. 

"My ego was getting the better of me. And that's part of the reason why I wanted to quit. I had such a big ego of who I was and what I had accomplished, and people should be helping me and no one was helping me."

Photo by WTA/Jimmie48

Vandeweghe credits Kardon's commitment to her and his work to keep things fun as they work their way back. While many players have enjoyed the rare opportunity to lean into what their lives might be like without tennis during the Covid shutdown, Vandeweghe said the non-tennis life wasn't what she was missing. 

"For me, I wasn't done with my tennis, I wasn't done with what I wanted to do and what I wanted to prove," she said. "And also just checking my ego, I wanted to now do this for me and not have the validation from any outside people that I once did or needed. 

"For me, winning wasn't solving anything for me personally. It was solving things externally, but it wasn't solving anything personally."

"I used to walk around - still do, from time to time - with a middle finger up and being like, 'You can't touch me, I'm winning.' Winning fixes everything. Winning solves everything. You can see that in coaching situations. You can see that in people's personal life. For me, winning wasn't solving anything for me personally. It was solving things externally, but it wasn't solving anything personally."

Manufacturing a comeback during a global pandemic is not easy. Vandeweghe said she struggled with tournament bubbles initially, but the team now travels with books and backgammon. For Wimbledon, she has flown in her boyfriend to help keep the experience light and fun.  

"Now that I have my personal life in order and definitely in check, tennis is just for fun now," Vandeweghe said. "There's still goals and things I want to achieve. I'm not here just to collect a check and show up. I want to win and I want to dominate and I want to be back to where I was: Top 10, contending for Slams, winning tournaments, playing for my country. 

"These things still matter, but it's different. It's for me. It's me, myself and I."