CoCo Vandeweghe faced the World No 1 player in the quarter-finals of the US Open on the largest arena in tennis with a calmness that belied the importance of the occasion.
It took everything she had, but at the last, she prevailed to secure another spot in the semi-finals for American players, upsetting Karolina Pliskova, 7-6(4) 6-3.
When I won this event as junior at 16, I always dreamed of being on the main stage. It is a process and here I am CoCo Vandewegue
She held her opening service game with composure to level Pliskova at 1-all, broke her to 15 to move ahead and held again with the loss of only two points to go up 3-1.
For Pliskova, the latest woman occupying the top spot without a Grand Slam to her name, she had a lot riding on this match – only a title win would allow her to hold onto her World No 1 ranking,
She had seen off the pack, bar one, Garbiñe Muguruza who, despite losing in round four, will become numero uno if Pliskova faltered.
Vandeweghe, a New York native with the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd fully behind her, is a remarkable athlete with bags of talent, if a little suspect in the temperament area at times.
She secured the help of Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, in the summer to help her fulfil her potential and he was sitting court side on Ashe reminding her that they sought ‘progress, not perfection’.
These two players, of equal age, both are 25, and height, 6’ 1”, who until now had been worlds apart, were 2-2 in the head to heads coming into the match.
The American forged ahead to a 4-2 lead and Pliskova slammed down four good serves to narrow the gap.
Vandeweghe, the No 20 seed, is having the best season of her career, thanks in part to the coaching of Cash.
She has buckled down on and off the court and, after complaining in the past of fatigue at this point in the season, slimmed down her schedule a little.
Her power and athleticism have remained focal points, but she is building those natural abilities into a more sustainable style, one which has put her in the semi-finals of the Australian Open and quarter-finals at Wimbledon this year.
She was tested in the eighth game, going down 0-30 and serving her way out of trouble before conceding a double for deuce.
A second double offered up a break point and a broken racket, but she saved tit with a brave cross court backhand, only to net the ball and concede another for the top seed to level at 4 games all.
Pliskova stepped up a gear to go ahead 5-4, producing a fine drop volley and then a glorious cross court forehand off a very short ball in the process.
Vandeweghe steadied herself to go up on her service but then delivered another double for deuce, netted a backhand and faced set point.
The Czech plied on the pressure but the American answered the call, holding tough to level it at 5-all.
Pliskova held to 15 to move ahead again, closely followed by Vandeweghe to force the tiebreak.
First blood to the American, who snatched the opening mini-break and held for 3-0 and then 5-2 as Pliskova hung on to her own service points but failed to recover the deficit.
At 5-4, Vandeweghe pulled up two set points and secured it on the first with a canny half-paced first delivery that Pliskova drove wide on the return.
After 54 minutes the underdog had edged the first set against the odds.
Although it was not raining, the roof on Ashe was closed from the outset because of the weather forecast that had caused organisers, in an unprecedented move, to cancel all matches other than a couple on the Grandstand court the night before.
The American started the second set by holding to love, matched by the Czech to 15.
The third game was tighter but Vandeweghe clung on to 30, despite another double fault, her fourth of the match.
Pliskova’s serve was not firing as she would wish and she went down 0-30, and then offered up two break points at 15-40.
Vandweghe’s return went straight to the Czech’s forehand and forced a drive long to snatch the break at her first attempt.
Yet another double and an unforced error gave Pliskova a chance to advance but the American served strong to recover.
She ballooned a forehand long to offer a break-back point, which she bravely, if tenuously, saved, only to drive her own into the net to concede yet another.
The laid back Czech was aced with a 110mph serve, the American’s fifth of the match.
A challenged second serve let had to replayed and two netted backhands gave up the distracted Vandeweghe’s lead.
Undaunted, the American broke back immediately and convincingly held for 5-2.
Pliskova, staring down the barrel of defeat, clung on, forcing Vandeweghe to serve for the match.
She steadied again, biding her time, but Pliskova’s relentless attack on Vandeweghe’s forehand side started to pay dividends.
The canny Czech built a slender lead but a challenge on the baseline went the American’s way.
A nervous backhand into the net gave Pliskova a lifeline, but she netted a forehand as Vandeweghe stayed in the ensuing rally for deuce.
A brave approach, struck behind the number one seed, brought up match point for the American, but her forehand let her down when it mattered most.
Probably the best rally of the match went Vandeweghe’s way and she got a second match point which, after nailing her first serve, Pliskova netted her return to go down, 7-6(4) 6-3 in 94 minutes.
Vandeweghe had beaten the No 1 in the world and made it three out four American’s in the semi-finals with a broad smile and a mammoth cheer from the Ashe crowd.
“”Even though we’re out here individually, it’s really a team sport.,” Vandeweghe told the crowd. “The team work as hard as I do.
“When I won this event as junior at 16, I always dreamed of being on the main stage. It is a process and here I am!
“I couldn’t wish for anything better.”
The disappointment for the vanquished Pliskova, however, was huge, but wherever the Garbiñe Muguruza was watching on this day, she deserved congratulations for becoming the new World No 1 on Monday.
For Vandeweghe, she could now climb to a career-best ranking of No 15 after the US Open, her best having been No 19 in May, and will need to reach the final in order to climb higher, perhaps as high as No 11.
Her next opponent is the winner of the night match between another American, Madison Keys and Kaia Kanepi from Estonia.
Should Keys win, it will be the first time since 1981 that all four semi-final slots at the US Open are filled by Americans, as Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens are set to face each other in the bottom half of the draw on Thursday.
“I watched the match last night with Venus,” said CoCo. “She said it best, we have to admire Serena. They all inspire me to be the next best American, and let’s make it four for four.
“There is a special sound when the roof is closed here. To experience it for the first time was really exciting.”
Certainly the home crowd is very excited.