Vandeweghe exceeds expectations in maiden slam semifinal

United States' Coco Vandeweghe celebrates a point win over compatriot Venus Williams during their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

CoCo Vandeweghe set two goals for herself at the start of the new season: to make the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and then, at some point in the year, go one step further and reach her first Grand Slam semifinal

MELBOURNE, Australia — CoCo Vandeweghe set two goals for herself at the start of the season: to make the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and then, at some point in the year, go one step further and reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.

It's time to set some new goals.

The 25-year-old American exceeded even her own expectations at the year's first Grand Slam, upsetting top-ranked and defending champion Angelique Kerber and French Open champion Garbine Muguruza on her way to the semifinals.

She nearly went yet another step to the final, taking the first set against Venus Williams on Thursday before ultimately falling 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3.

"I'm very happy with starting the year this way, putting validation to the hard work that I've put in during the off-season, the sacrifices," she said. "But, you know, at the same time I'm not satisfied. There's a disappointment factor because I'm not satisfied. I think that's a good thing."

Vandeweghe, a former U.S. Open junior champion, has long had the potential to break through at the elite level and compete for majors, but lacked consistency on her booming groundstrokes and the composure to keep her emotions in check.

She joked after her win over Muguruza that she promised her racket sponsor, Yonex, she wouldn't break any rackets during the Australian Open, but she faltered in just her second match.

"I try to behave (my) best, but it's a work in progress," she said.

Against former Grand Slam winners Kerber and Muguruza, however, Vandeweghe showed the kind of poise that was often missing in her losses over the years. The trick now, she said, is finding the right balance of intensity and self-control in the right moments.

Again, she admitted it's a "work in progress."

"Some matches I need more fire, and some matches I need a little bit less. There are going to be moments where I'm going to be kicking myself in the butt for doing something stupid, and other times it's going to be pumping myself up."

There were a few racket tosses and eye-rolling moments in the semifinal against Williams, to be sure.

Vandeweghe had her chances — she had a look at 13 breakpoint opportunities in the match, but converted just one. And though she slugged 37 winners, she made far too many unforced errors — 51. She also had more double-faults (11) than aces (10).

"Straight after the match I was pretty upset. I had a feel-sorry-for-myself moment," she said.

But the disappointment was short-lived. Vandeweghe, who is projected to hit a new career-high ranking of No. 20 on Monday, knows this experience will be invaluable the next time she's in this position.

"I think it's similar to the first time I made a mixed doubles final (at the 2016 Australian Open), I was completely like, 'Wow, how the heck did I get here?'" Vandeweghe said. "Then when I went out for the second one that I made last year at the U.S. Open, I was probably the most settled one on the court."

"So if I get here again, hopefully I come out the victor."

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