NEW YORK—When 12-time Grand Slam doubles champion Martina Hingis asks you to be her tennis partner, you say yes right away. Or at least you really should.
Last month, the 35-year-old Swiss cold-dialed CoCo Vandeweghe, seeking her out as the first choice for a new partner after a mutally-agreed split with Sania Mirza. The American nearly didn’t answer the call.
“The only reason I answered it—because usually I don’t answer numbers I don’t know—is because it was such a bizarre number,” Vandeweghe said. “It’s got to be some tennis player. I was just at home.
“I told her, ‘Listen, I already have two partners for Cincinnati and the U.S. Open, but let me think about it.’ I almost felt a bit big-headed for telling her that.”
“I had to wait. No phone call next day,” Hingis said. “But in a way that was a good sign.”
In the end, Vandeweghe couldn’t pass up an opportunity to play with a Hall of Famer, and her previously agreed upon partners understood the decision. Oh, and her coach Craig Kardon helped by asking Vandeweghe if she was crazy.
Since ending a wildly successful partnership with Mirza in August, in which she won three consecutive major titles (2015 Wimbledon through 2016 Australian Open), Hingis’ time with Vandeweghe has been unusual. In their first event together in Cincinnati, the duo received a bye and two walkovers to reach the semis before playing a single match. They won it in straight sets, but fell to Mirza and Barbora Strycova in the final.
Their matches at Flushing Meadows show that the new partners are still trying to find their rhythm. Playing against Kveta Peschke and Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the first round, Hingis and Vandeweghe dropped the first set before steamrolling to a 6-1, 6-2 finish. Since then, they’ve posted a straight-sets win in the second round and defeated Yifan Xu and Saisai Zheng in three sets to reach the quarters.
“We’re getting better every day, every time, but it’s still like our potential is not out there,” Hingis said. “There’s glimpses of it. Sometimes we have it for a few games then we have a lull.
“We’re the better tennis players but sometimes we’ve got to win the important points in a game, not just two or three. I think we just need to put it together.”
Since returning to the tour in 2013 as a doubles specialist, Hingis has dominated the discipline, both with Mirza and in mixed doubles with Leander Paes. In her short time with Paes, Hingis won a career mixed doubles Grand Slam.
But while Hingis seeks to successfully defend her women’s doubles title in New York, she’s already out of the mixed. She and Paes lost to, of all players, Rajeev Ram...and Vandeweghe. It marked Vandeweghe’s second match of this tournament against a current or former partner (she reached her first-ever doubles major semifinal with Groenefeld at last year’s Open).
“I have a winning record, that’s all I have to say,” Vandeweghe said after her and Ram edged Hingis and Paes in a super-tiebreaker, 13-11. “It’s not the best thing. It’s probably not the best feeling when you beat someone you like, and it happens in singles as well. It’s even worse when you lose. It’s tough, but it happens every single week.”
“We are professionals. You take it,” Hingis said. “You try your best on the court, but off the court it’s a different story. We played a great match [in mixed]; everybody played well.”
If anything, the loss only further justified Hingis’ faith in Vandeweghe, a confident finisher in doubles. She’s not afraid to close the net, and is more likely to blast a booming forehand than nervously float a ball in.
The 24-year-old Californian also complements the veteran with her youthful demeanor. On Sunday, when Hingis threw her racquet in a rage, Vandeweghe was busy chuckling. They’re consistently chattering during changeovers, and neither is afraid to crack a smile, even when things aren’t going their way
“She has a huge game at the baseline and a huge serve, and is also not scared at the net,” Hingis said. “When I serve I can say, watch yourself. I think this is what I was looking for.”
While honored to be playing with a living legend, Vandeweghe is confident enough to know she belongs on the court with her.
“I’ve played against her so many times, and I’ve lost so many times I was like, finally,” Vandewghe said. “She’s just such a smart player. She’s not only smart, but also encouraging in the way she gives information to me as well. I enjoy her company on and off the court. I think that definitely shows the match play that no one is hating each other.”
Despite some growing pains, so far, so good. And with three more wins, Vandeweghe could be picking up a trophy after picking up the phone.
“I think we can do some great thing together and do some damage,” Hingis said. “Although I feel like we’re still haven’t hit the potential, yet but on the other hand it feels like it’s scary because we’re in the quarterfinals not playing our best.”