SAN JOSE, USA - CoCo Vandeweghe returned to the tour after a 10-month absence on Monday at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, putting in a crisp and strong performance to defeat Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 6-4 in the first round.
Now ranked No.636 with a protected ranking at No.100, the two-time major semifinalist made good on her wildcard into San Jose, striking 21 winners and playing composed, patient power tennis to earn her first singles win in 14 months. While Vandeweghe cut an impressively confident figure on court, the 27-year-old confessed she was riddled with nerves throughout the match.
"I was crying after the first set after winning that," Vandeweghe said after the match. "I was very nervous serving it out. It was like I'd forgotten how to do those things. I haven't done in a while.
"But I'm beyond happy. I couldn't ask for anything better to start. Just being out there and playing and competing is one thing for me to be emotional and super happy about. And then there's getting the win on top of that and playing a good tennis match.
"I mean, this was the first time I played two sets. I haven't played two sets, so I didn't know what was going to happen."
The win was the former World No.10's first since making the quarterfinals at 2018 s'Hertogenbosch. Two weeks later, Vandeweghe would roll her right ankle in the first round at Wimbledon, setting off an unexpected chain of events that would leave her immobilized months later and ultimately diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, sidelining her for the season.
Vandeweghe describes the circumstances and sudden onset of her injury, how it felt to be rendered a couch potato, and the painful process behind her recovery.
WTA Insider: We saw the ankle injury you sustained last July at Wimbledon, but can you talk through the complications that led to you not being able to play this year?
Vandeweghe: I was dealing with that ankle injury since July at Wimbledon. Playing through it, getting through it. Then I felt really good going into the offseason. Didn't have any complications there.
I was playing an exhibition in Hawaii and the day before I was supposed to play I was kind of feeling like I had turf toe, which is like a hyperextension of your big toe, and that's where I felt it. After playing that match I was really limping the next day. I'm leaving for New Zealand in three days and so Pat [Cash, her coach] said just take the day off.
Went to the beach, chilled, and the next day I can hardly walk. I took a nap, woke up that afternoon and I could not walk. My body would not let me stand up out of bed. I called my mom and I'm like, I think I broke my foot. I was in immense pain and I couldn't have a bedsheet over my foot. She said well come back home.
So I went into the emergency room Christmas Day and they found nothing. No breaks, no nothing. Couldn't get an MRI or anything because it's Christmas. Everything's closed. So I'm just chillin, hanging around, and my foot looks like a potato. I was like, I don't know how it's not broken. No one can touch it. It's sweating out of nowhere. I still can't have a bedsheet over it. I can't put a sock on, I can't fit my foot in the shoe.
Long story short, a few months later I was diagnosed with CRPS which is Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It has to do with your nervous system. It's hypersensitivity of the nerves. I also ended up with two stress fractures in my foot.
So first the nerve sensitivity had to calm down which it did, and then finally had to then address the two stress fractures. But I will never be able to boot up my foot if I need to. It'll always be a complication if I ever have to go into surgery. I'll never be able to tape my foot like I did. I can't have it that constricted anymore.
CRPS can last for two years. Everyone's a little bit different. I was taking nerve blockers to dull the pain. I wouldn't want to wish that pain on any anyone. It's kind of like your foot's asleep and you hit it against something and then you get an electric shock. I would get nauseous if my foot was hanging down for too long.
I was just basically sleeping a lot, just full-on depression mode. Catching up on Netflix, watching lots of TV. There's nothing I could do. I was just stoked when I finally got a scooter so I could just cruise around. But other than that I was on crutches, I couldn't feed myself, I couldn't take a shower, I needed my mom to help me do everything.
It was just so sudden that I just was absolutely in shock.
WTA Insider: Some players have these injury breaks from the sport and say that they come back with a new perspective or that it was a blessing in disguise. Other players say it was horrible. Where do you fall on that spectrum?
Vandeweghe: No, it's not a blessing in disguise. It was so much pain, so much mental turmoil going through my mind. It was crazy, from going one day competing, playing, to two days later I can't walk and I don't know if I'll ever be out of pain. I don't know if I'll ever be able to walk because it's honestly time and what your body wants to do.
And the therapy for it is so intensely painful. It's putting different objects to your foot and your foot's hypersensitive so it's like it's on fire or someone's sticking a needle into it. And then re-learning how to walk. Literally therapy was looking at my feet in the mirror. It's so boring and stupid. I'm watching my leg disappear because I'm getting atrophy. And now I've got to build this all up. Now I got to learn how to run how to balance and rework my foot.
And the biggest problem was I was losing it in space so because I hadn't used it for so long. That's common. So I'd miss a step and things like that. So it's really wild.
WTA Insider: What was the lowest moment for you?
Vandeweghe: I was totally depressed. You don't realize it. I was trying to keep myself entertained. I was coming up to San Francisco visiting my brother, doing things that I normally don't get to do. But also what I like to do is very active and I couldn't be active. So a lot of it was just bumming around and it was just really sad to just be secluded.
I couldn't drive a car because it was my right foot. I was ordering Uber Eats and my mom would make me a big crock pot of chili and that was it. My life was so boring. Tennis Channel for My Tennis Life was like, Can you give us something? I'm like, literally I'm laying on the couch just trying not to like eat any more chili and there's nothing going on.
There was good and bad to it, but I think it was just nice to have that mental fortitude to just keep going because it would have been super easy to just be like this isn't worth it to me, I'm in so much pain I just don't want to do this anymore.
WTA Insider: Did you completely check out of tennis?
Vandeweghe: Absolutely. I watched two matches the whole time. One was Shelby's return at Charleston and the other one was the Wimbledon final, Federer. That's all I've watched.
WTA Insider: What are you looking forward to most about getting back on tour?
Vandeweghe: I'm just looking forward to playing. I love it. I miss the competition. And that's the thing I love about tennis is competing and to be able to do that. it was tough watching all those Grand Slam go by and then being at Ali Riske's wedding and seeing everyone.
It was just hard being away and now I'm just happy to be back and hopefully, day by day, match my match, move forward.
WTA Insider: When did you start being able to practice again and when did you start thinking about making the comeback?
Vandeweghe: Literally Monday I thought about a comeback.
Last Monday when I played the World Team Tennis match, I actually decided I'm playing a match. I hadn't played anything live and you never know when you get into a live situation. I can practice till I'm blue in the face. But when you're live and wrong-footed and the adrenaline's going and you're just not even thinking about it, it's a different scenario.
But before that Monday I'd been a month practicing normally where I practiced two hours a day and coming back the next day and practicing again, training in the gym all that stuff. So I've only been properly training for about a month.
WTA Insider: So were you able to play without thinking about your foot tonight?
Vandeweghe: Yes. I slipped and fell and I thought oh my gosh there it goes, I'm done. But all I got was a raspberry so I'm fine. And a break.
So I was like Cool. Let's go.