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AO2020 a stepping stone for Vandeweghe, Giron

  • Matt Trollope

It was in mid November, at the Oracle Challenger Series event in Houston, that CoCo Vandeweghe and Marcos Giron clinched wildcards into the main draw at Australian Open 2020 – an important step in the Californians’ respective careers. 
Giron’s victory in Houston came after he trailed 1-6 in the third-set tiebreak of the final against Ivo Karlovic, a stunning victory that saw him win the USTA Australian Open Men’s Wild Card Challenge.
With entry into next season’s first major tournament already guaranteed, Giron’s subsequent rise to world No.102 could see him sneak into the main draw on the strength of his own ranking anyway – a massive confidence boost. 
"It definitely makes me feel better. It really makes me feel like I've earned a spot there. Technically I'm not in right now (with my current ranking) but I do believe that I really kind of earned my spot there,” Giron, who began the 2019 season ranked 308th, told
“Being so close really does validate that, (that) over the course of a year that I've earned a spot there, and that it's not necessarily a one-week fluke.
"This is going to be my first time going to Australian Open – for it to be main draw is just spectacular.”

That’s certainly not the case for Vandeweghe, who will be making her 10th appearance at Melbourne Park this January. 
The former world No.10, an Australian Open semifinalist in 2017, earned her wildcard after reaching the final in Houston, part of an impressive post-US Open swing that also saw her reach the final of the 60K tournament in Templeton and back-to-back quarterfinals at ITF 80K events.
Currently ranked outside the top 200, this was an important step for Vandeweghe, who missed 10 months of competition due to an ankle injury that precipitated a painful nerve condition – rendering her inactive and plunging her into a depression.
"I feel a lot better. I've pushed myself in different ways; OK, I can pay back-to-back three-set matches. I can play match after match in the same day. I can make it five matches deep, back-to-back weeks. Show up to training and not be limping. Things like that, from a progression standpoint,” Vandeweghe, who won 13 of her last 17 matches of the season, told
“I'm having so much fun playing again, and that has been missing very much so from my game post 2017. Having that taken away from me in 2018, 2019, it was definitely a shell-shock moment: maybe this is never going to happen for me again.
“So that's why I'm enjoying it so much in this 'newcoming' of my career. I'm having a whole new personality and outlook to tennis, to life, to relationships on and off the court. It's been very interesting.
"I am basically at the bottom of the barrel right now, scraping my way back up to the top to have all that I once was. And that kind of mindset is definitely an ego check.”
At her peak, Vandeweghe was a fearsome prospect whose serve, firepower and athletic all-court game could completely take the racquet out of her opponents’ hands.
And the Australian Open was the place where she pieced all those parts of her game together to make various breakthroughs. 
It was in 2015, under lights at Rod Laver Arena, where she beat major champion Sam Stosur – “a huge win for me personally,” she said – en route to the third round, her first time that deep in a Slam.
And in 2017 she routed top-10 stars Angelique Kerber – the defending champion – and Garbine Muguruza to advance to her first major semifinal, where she came incredibly close to toppling Venus Williams. 


Her current level may be a long way from that, but if there’s anywhere she might recapture the magic, don’t be surprised if it is at Melbourne Park.
“I'm doing a full off-season – I'm training as a normally would, I am competing and playing points. I've been training to be ready to compete again in Grand Slams. That's what I want to do,” Vandeweghe said.
“But I don't know until I try. The last Grand Slam I tried to play was US Open and I was very overwhelmed ... I feel like I'm capable of competing, but a Grand Slam load of a full two weeks is an unknown for me.
"I've always loved playing the Australian Open – I've always thought it was great fun, I've enjoyed it, I've had my best success there. 
“To play in that Australian Open (in 2017), it felt like a milestone, and a stepping stone in my career – in that, I've achieved this, I can do it again.”
Giron has little idea what to expect when he comes to Melbourne, other than knowing the tournament comes with rave reviews from his fellow players.
Season 2019, featuring highlights such as bookending his season with Challenger titles, reaching the third round of Indian Wells and qualifying for the main draw at Wimbledon, also featured a breakthrough of another sort. 

"I've always believe that I had the level, but there were many times where my mind let me down, and maybe a little self confidence or belief on the very important moments (was missing),” he admitted.
“In 2018, I think I lost 20-plus matches when I was up a set and break against very good players. 
“I just had to take a step back, look at things objectively, and how can I improve, and play my best when it mattered most.
“I would say that's where my biggest improvement was.”
Australian Open 2020 will mark just the fourth Grand Slam main draw of Giron’s career. 
And for the 26-year-old, who is targeting the top 50 in 2020, a strong performance in Melbourne could keep him trending in that very direction.
“It really helps give me belief seeing so many players achieve so much later into their 30s. It really gives me the belief that I can do this for another 10 years,” he said.
“I keep getting better every year -- hopefully I can keep improving. I still feel young, and I still feel I can compete for a long time. 
“I'm in good shape, my body feels good and that's really all I can ask for. And I'm going do my best to execute my game. 
“And so we'll see. Hopefully it works well.”