Coco Vandeweghe is in the midst of what she calls her best two-week stretch of the year. Last week, the 21-year-old American qualified for the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif., and won her first-round match, raising her ranking to No. 199. This week, she qualified for the Southern California Open in Carlsbad and again won her first-round match. She was scheduled to face Ana Ivanovic or Stanford winner Dominika Cibulkova in the second round.
Vandeweghe has had some other encouraging results in an otherwise tough year. She defeated Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli in Mexico in April and pushed Petra Kvitova to three sets in the first round of Wimbledon last month.
Last week, SI.com caught up with Vandeweghe — whose mother, Tauna, was an Olympic swimmer and whose grandfather Ernie and uncle Kiki both played for the NBA’s New York Knicks — for an interview in which she discussed her late-blooming path to pro tennis, her love of basketball and her pop-culture favorites.
SI.com: When did you first realize you were good at tennis?
Vandeweghe: Probably when I won U.S. Open juniors [in 2008] at 16. I actually really didn’t want to play tennis. It was tough for me to have that specific moment because I was really trying to prove to my mother that I wanted to be a basketball player. I love playing tennis, but I love basketball more. She just thought that for women it was a better career choice to be a tennis player. At 11 to 15, I was like, “I don’t really care. It doesn’t really matter to me.”
Up until my sophomore year, I was playing basketball for my high school. So I had an abnormal start to my tennis. Most kids [who are top prospects] are only playing tennis from a young age, whereas I didn’t really take it seriously until I was 15.
But winning the junior U.S. Open — where I went in as a wild card and kind of demolished people; I didn’t lose a set — I never really had [great] results prior to that. To go in there and beat the best in the world at that stage, I was like, “Well, this is what I want to do.” It was definite validation.
SI.com: So it’s pretty clear which sport you’d be playing if it wasn’t tennis?
Vandeweghe: It would be basketball. I would be in college playing.
SI.com: Do you follow college basketball? The WNBA?
Vandeweghe: Not at all. I watch the NBA. It’s kind of forced upon us with my grandfather and my uncle being in the NBA. Watching basketball is just the thing that we do. I always loved playing and I still love playing pick-up games.
SI.com: Aren’t you worried about getting injured in a pick-up game?
Vandeweghe: I’ve put the nix on playing serious pick-up games, which I miss desperately. H-O-R-S-E is about as much as I can do.
SI.com: Did you ever entertain the idea of playing college tennis?
Vandeweghe: Not once I took tennis seriously. I never wanted to play tennis in college. I just always thought if I was going to go to school, I was going to go for school. Not for tennis.
SI.com: What would you have studied if you did go to college?
Vandeweghe: Communications. I grew up and my mom was on TV and I always really enjoyed watching her on TV, so I always thought I’d go into communications.
SI.com: What do you do at tournaments to pass the time?
Vandeweghe: I like to go to the movies and catch up on what I’ve missed. But I don’t really do much. I don’t really do much. I’m kind of a bum and really boring.
SI.com: What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?
Vandeweghe: I really enjoyed the Sandra Bullock movie with Melissa McCarthy called The Heat. I’m a sucker for dumb comedies.
SI.com: What’s your favorite dumb comedy?
Vandeweghe: Dumb and Dumber. When people ask me about my favorite movies, it’s Dumb and Dumber and The Sound of Music. Usually every Christmas Eve at my house we’re watching Dumb and Dumber and eating caramel popcorn.
SI.com: What are your favorite TV shows right now?
Vandeweghe: True Blood. I watch The Vampire Diaries with my little sister. She’s 11 years younger than me so it’s more her level. It’s great. I’m definitely into The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I like the gossip and the cattiness.
SI.com: Favorite music?
Vandeweghe: Imagine Dragons is my band right now.
SI.com: Do you consider yourself a tennis nerd? Do you keep up with results and have Tennis Channel on at the house?
Vandeweghe: Not really. I keep up with [the results of] my friends on tour. As far as being a tennis nerd, I didn’t grow up watching it that much. But I do enjoy watching the classic matches. I was giving Lindsay [Davenport] a hard time because they’re constantly showing classic matches of her.
SI.com: How often do you talk to Lindsay?
Vandeweghe: All the time. We were going to get together last week in Orange County, but she’s got so many kids! She was carpooling, doing camp and stuff, so we couldn’t meet up.
SI.com: Tennis players travel so much. Do you remember a time where you felt culture shock?
Vandeweghe: There are some tough times, especially as an American going to Paris. That’s rough, to put it mildly. I was trying to get out of there to get to Belgium, where I have family. We missed the train and I was asking the woman when’s the next train, can I switch my ticket, normal stuff. And she’s like, “Oh, you Americans!” in the thickest Parisian accent of all time. “You have to respect our rules!” I was like, “I just want to get out of here.”
SI.com: Name a food that you can’t resist.
Vandeweghe: Chili’s Molten Lava Brownie Cake with ice cream on top. Amazing. I’m a chocolate lover.
SI.com: Who’s the go-to person you call when you want to grab dinner at a tournament?
Vandeweghe: Eleni Daniilidou. She’s a cool chick.
SI.com: You have a day off from tennis. What do you do?
Vandeweghe: If it’s a nice day, I’m at the beach. I’m pretty pale so I can’t lay out that long. And I love going into the water to body surf.
SI.com: If you could have season tickets to any team, which would it be?
Vandeweghe: New York Knicks.
SI.com: If you could snap your fingers and miraculously improve one aspect of your game, what would it be?
Vandeweghe: I would never miss the last ball.
SI.com: Oh, come on. That’s not a part of your game!
Vandeweghe: Yeah, it is. I would never miss the last ball so I would never lose a match.
SI.com: But someone could still just hit a winner. If it’s a clean winner, it’s not like you missed the ball.
Vandeweghe: It would be me missing it because I didn’t get there!