STUTTGART, Germany - CoCo Vandeweghe stormed into the first clay-court semifinal of her career with a stunning 6-4, 6-1 upset of No.1 seed Simona Halep in one hour and 14 minutes - a result that means the unseeded 26-year-old has now won her last three matches against World No.1s.
"It’s always something special when you beat a World No.1, no matter what stage it is, what venue," Vandeweghe told the press, after the match. "To get a victory over a World No.1 it’s a certain pedigree and you definitely hope that you come out at the end with a win. Today I was fortunate enough to be able to do that."
"I’m very pleased with the result today and again, it’s a broken record, but I did everything I could control out there," the American continued. "In doing that, I found it easier to be able to play."
The American has spent her week in Germany professing her immutable dislike of the surface, but she began the match showing little discomfort on it. Sealing her first hold with a breathtaking reflex backhand down the line, Vandeweghe's game was in full flow over the course of the match as she struck 19 winners past her opponent.
In order to avoid getting dragged into the long baseline exchanges that would favour her opponent, the US Open semifinalist made judicious net forays a key part of her strategy - to often brilliant effect, such as a delightfully spun dig from her feet in the third game.
Vandeweghe's only previous clay quarterfinal had come in Madrid last year, and coincidentally Halep had been her opponent on that occasion as well. Then, the Romanian had asserted her clay-court prowess in a 6-1, 6-1 rout - but almost one year on, the World No.16 demonstrated how much both her game and composure on the surface had evolved.
"It was just a different approach to the mental side of how I was coming into the match mainly was the biggest difference," said Vandeweghe, when comparing the results. "The one thing I wanted to really do is show that I was in every point, and show that I was coming out and competing for every point no matter if I was down 0-40 or if it was the first point of the game. And that’s what my main focus was for today."
Though Vandeweghe would miss her first two opportunities to break in the sixth game of the set with backhand errors, she did not lapse on her own delivery, behind which she did not face a break point in the first set. With Halep serving to stay in the set at 4-5, the Zhuhai runner-up struck.
Thus far, the Australian Open finalist's strategy had been to keep Vandeweghe at bay with a high first serve percentage and by keeping her on the move in baseline rallies. But despite Halep hitting lines with pinpoint accuracy, it was Vandeweghe who turned the tables with relentless defence to move ahead in the game - and, two Halep double faults later, snatched the set.
That proved to be the middle of a five-game purple patch for Vandeweghe, who drew first blood in the second set with a brace of ferocious returns. One game later, facing break points for the first time, the former World No.9 avoided the lapse proving costly by simply sending down a series of unreturnable serves to dig herself out of a 0-40 hole.
"It’s nothing I feel in particular from one day to the next on a good serving day," explained Vandeweghe. "I look at different nuances in my serve when I’m going through the motion and even a little bit in the warm-up -- I don’t take much account into a warm-up, but even just I pay attention to the ball bounces that I do for myself, I pay attention to my breathing."
"You know there are different things that I look at each and every day that settle me before I step up to serve and pick my spot and go for it," Vandeweghe continued. "But I definitely don’t have the key to what makes my serve go in more times than not because my percentages are up and down through a tournament, and through a set really."
From there, Vandeweghe lifted her game even further. Another break point in the fifth game was staved off with a fourth ace, and the 4-1 lead sealed with a wicked forehand angle. Halep, meanwhile, was running out of ideas - as evidenced by her decision, one game later, to serve and volley down break point.
The surprise tactic merely set Vandeweghe up with a simple backhand pass, and the American served out an emphatic victory one game later to set up a semifinal against No.6 seed Caroline Garcia, who ousted No.3 seed Elina Svitolina.
"I haven’t played [Garcia] in a while," said Vandeweghe. "So, I don’t have any thoughts about it. You know, it’s another match, another day, turn to play tennis, all the normal stuff."
"This tournament has such great depth, and I think that’s what makes this tournament so great that at sixteen in the world or whatever I am, I’m not even seeded," Vandeweghe stated. "So, to play top players from the word go is an amazing thing for an event and makes it interesting."