By Ros Satar, in Birmingham

  • Fifth ranked American Coco Vandeweghe & fourth ranked Czech Barbora Strycova battled through a tough semi-final at the Aegon Classic before revealing their Olympic stories

BIRMINGHAM, UK – As the European summer swing hits its final strides we focus on the Olympic fortunes of two of the Aegon Classic’s semi-finalists – Coco Vandeweghe and Barbora Strycova.

In the blink of an eye that is still the outdoor grass court season, and in a cramped year, discussions still rage at water-coolers about the importance of the Olympics.

For many, it is the absolute pinnacle of sporting achievement, but with the inclusion of tennis and now golf into the sporting mix, we see some of our most revered stars thwarted in their attempts to capture that elusive Olympic medal.

Of course not every Olympics has had to contend with the threat and concerns of the Zika virus, not to mention the necessary heavy schedules of two of the world’s most profitable sports.

But for some – the Olympics still holds that allure, as we discovered.

 

Vandeweghe: “A heart-breaking moment for myself”

We Brits were not immune to the chase for Olympic glory, watching British No. 2 Heather Watson tie herself in knots in the run up to the French Open as she bid to put clear water between her and the Olympic cut-off.

With fifth-ranked American Vandeweghe, there was scant time between a tough loss just before the cut to Irina-Camelia Begu and coming from a sporting family, with an Olympian in their midst, it was a tough break.

She told us, after her win over top seed Agnieszka Radwanska:

“I was kind of dealing with a major letdown of I didn’t make the Olympic team and that was one of my biggest goals. So it was definitely a hard moment for me that I really internalised. I didn’t talk to anyone on my team. It was just kind of a disappointing moment for myself, heartbreaking moment for myself.

“It was the final cut for rankings was after the French Open. So the whole beginning of this year to French Open, including last year, was where you could gain points. So I’m No. 5 American. I was very close to the other two of Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens, so it was trying to make headwind into the point deficit that I was dealing – sometimes in wasn’t much, other weeks it was. It was kind of always inching closer to that.

“It’s hard to describe what type of feeling I had besides heartbreaking. To put it in perspective, my goal from the moment I started playing a sport, any sport, was to be an Olympian, because my mom was an Olympian.

“It was something that was always watched and always admired in my family, still even me to this day. An Olympic athlete is the crème de la crème of what they do. So for me, to win a gold medal, to win any medal would be leaps and bounds ahead of Grand Slams, for me, because that always something that I’ve aspired to.”

She noted that last October, attending a Women’s Sports Foundation Gala dinner, she got to rub shoulders with great female athletes from all manner of sports – from the recognised swimming and athletics to the more extreme sports.

Coming from a comparatively well-known sport as women’s tennis, it was eye-opening that she was so in awe of them, as she described:

“I want what you have. So to kind of put that perspective on that was my feeling of what an Olympian is, that’s what I was dealing with in the heartbreak moment.”

Not that it was stopping Vandeweghe from carving up the draw here in Birmingham, including the Thursday-of-many-many-matches.

Yet in what could have been a pivotal moment, breaking Strycova back in the semi-final decider, suddenly the wheels came off as she broke down at the change of ends, with coach Craig Kardon doing his best to help her through the moment.

After being edged out of her second grass final in a row, she told us:

“I’m not really a crier, which is funny. I don’t know. Just everything hit me all at once, just the buildup you could say. It wasn’t one particular thing. I mean, it’s an emotional game and emotional sport.

“I’ve been playing a lot of matches, a lot of tennis. A lot of things happen in every single match. Sometimes it just compounds and you get a result of some sort of emotional flares.”

Having admitted that she had held on to a lot of feelings about the Olympics, not to mention having gone deep in two of the key warm-up events for Wimbledon, she admitted that it had all piled up at once.

“We’re all human. I definitely showed it out there, which is, I don’t know, I’m still trying to pull myself together a little bit.

“It’s just a lot of things that happened on and off the court. It wasn’t one thing in particular. I can’t point anything in particularly out.”

 

Strycova: “It was a tough decision for the coach”

Czech tennis is enjoying some golden days – almost a permanent fixture on the Fed Cup side, and spearheaded by double-Slam winner Petra Kvitova, the Czechs will be a force to be reckoned with across the singles and doubles.

The ‘Silent H’s’ of Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova are a given, but despite joining forces with Karolina Pliskova to win the doubles in last year’s Fed Cup Final, her ranking just fell short, behind Lucie Safarova and Pliskova, and the

“The reason is that my ranking was not good enough. We have so many players who has better ranking than me.

“So it was tough decision for the coach, to tell me also that I’m not playing. But I think it’s fair how it is. I’m going to play singles and I will focus on that.”

She found herself edged out by Barbora Krejcikova whose doubles ranking of 34 pushes Strycova down to 41 and out of the reckoning to do both events.

In an even stranger twist of irony, Vandeweghe draws Strycova in her opening round at Eastbourne, as she embarks on a third tournament ahead of Wimbledon.

For Strycova, she will take a second tilt at the Birmingham title, after finishing the runner up in 2014, behind Ana Ivanovic.

The Aegon Classic final will take place between Strycova and Madison Keys, at 1:30pm BST.

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