CoCo Vandeweghe + Pat Cash: A closer look

“Ah, c’mon what was that?!” she exclaimed, as she hit a shot which careered over the net and landed wide. The manner in which the words were spoken were jovial, sarcastic even, almost playful. Welcome to one of CoCo Vandeweghe’s practice sessions, during which she’d often be seen bantering, goofing around and lightly expressing annoyance at herself.

Watching CoCo practicing at Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year, it seemed the same goes for her doubles’ practice as it does for her singles’. In fact, the tone for her doubles’ practice sessions that I witnessed was even lighter, as she laughed and joked with her double partner; the feeling was more like something you might experience between two friends enjoying a knockaround in a park, rather than in the midst of a major tennis tournament.

Little did I know that, just a couple of months on, CoCo Vandeweghe’s form would be such that she would achieve a career-best, career-first Grand Slam semi-final in the US Open at Flushing Meadows. And, as much as is said about the women’s draw and it’s unpredictability, CoCo has defeated the #10 and #1 seeds along the way, most recently world number 1 Karolina Pliskova.

Whilst we can never truly know exactly what leads to a player’s change in form, whether it’s a dip or an ascent, we can certainly speculate. And whilst we don’t know exactly how much of an impact coach Pat Cash has had, the question is “how much impact?” rather than “has an impact been made?”. Cash became Coco’s coach only in June this year, for the Aegon Classic in Birmingham (I was there, and it would have been interesting to observe more of CoCo knowing that Pat had just stepped in).

Here’s my 2 cents on the subject of the CoCo and Pat situation:

A new start
Whilst changing coach can be a tricky thing to do, leaving sometimes long, well-formed trusting relationships behind, it is an opportunity to start afresh. To take what you have learned thus far, in the context of your existing coach and team, and bring that into the new coaching relationship – whilst, of course, also coming in with an openness in mind to the new coach and their methods. Of course, also this year Novak Djokovic surprised a fair few folks when he parted with his whole coaching team, beginning his relationship with Andre Agassi at Roland Garros, and assessing the fit between the two of them. Soon after they started, Djokovic spoke about the ‘nice vibe’ between them and Agassi continued to Wimbledon with him, before Djokovic had to withdraw with injury for the rest of the season.

It’s all about the vibe
Using Djokovic’s apt words, it’s all about the vibe. Whether it’s a coaching relationship, or a therapeutic relationship, various research has shown that the most important factor in determining the ‘success’ of these relationships, is the nature of the relationship between the two people involved. From what I can tell when it comes to CoCo and Pat, they seem to be free-speaking, gregarious, quirky kinda characters. Though it’s easy to say so now, I’m not so surprised that they seem to have gelled.

Pat Cash as a coach
There are as many ‘types’ of coaches as there are grains of sand on a beach because – guess what – we’re all human and beautifully unique. Whilst Pat Cash may not have gelled so well with another player, he clearly has with CoCo. For example, I know that a certain, well-respected sports coach here in England just didn’t vibe well with a junior tennis player; the fact that they came from such different worlds, him being a middle-aged man and her a teenage girl, meant that the coaching relationship was always going to be on the back foot).

The fact that Pat has won a Grand Slam (Wimbledon, 1987) and reached two other finals (Australian Open x 2), means that he can not only share hi experiences and advice with CoCo, based on what he has actually been through himself, but – perhaps even more significantly – CoCo has the confidence in knowing that she has a guy in her corner who’s actually ‘been there’. And there could be a certain edge and self-belief that comes from that. Just look at what she was saying about him (“his energy and aura”) and their shared attitude and mentality, right at the start of their coaching relationship – here.

In summary, the vibe between CoCo and Pat appears to be solid. Coupled with their match in character/personality, Pat’s experience as a tennis player, and his coaching experience before CoCo (he has also coached the likes of Greg Rusedski and Mark Philippoussis), in one way or another, Pat seems to be providing CoCo with a lot of what she’s been needing. Tag on CoCo’s chilled, jokey nature off the court (and on the practice court!), and we might see something even more special from CoCo Vandeweghe this week.

If she takes her next match as it comes, keeping calm and her emotions in check throughout the match (a release at the end is healthy – as she did, understandably, in defeating world number 1 Pliskova yesterday and to reach her very first Grand Slam semi-final), CoCo is capable of becoming the next female tennis player to win her first Grand Slam. And, if she gets there (she plays the winner of Madison Keys vs Kaia Kanepi), it’ll be an All-American Final, with Americans Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens battling it out in the second semi-final.

Whatever happens, it should be an exciting end to a great tournament for us. Will it as exciting for CoCo Vandeweghe?

by Jasraj
Wednesday 6th September