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From athletic family, temper all her own

If you think returning one of CoCo Vandeweghe’s 117-mph first tennis services is a chore, try writing about her without mentioning her family.

It cannot be done.

■ Her mother, Tauna Vandeweghe, swam in the 1976 Olympics — and after switching sports, made it back to the Olympics in 1984 as an alternate for the U.S. women’s volleyball team.

■ Her father, Robert Mullarkey — well, CoCo doesn’t get along very well with her father. That’s why she has taken her mother’s maiden name. Besides, CoCo Mullarkey? Doesn’t sound that cool.

■ Her uncle, Kiki Vandeweghe, was a two-time NBA All-Star who averaged 19.7 points over his 14-year career and went on to become coach and general manager of the New Jersey Nets.

■ Her other uncle, Bruk Vandeweghe, medaled in beach volleyball at the 1994 Goodwill Games.

■ Her great uncle, Mel Hutchins, played for the Knicks.

■ Her grandfather, Dr. Ernie Vandeweghe, also played for the Knicks and became chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.

■ Her grandmother, Colleen Kay Hutchins Vandeweghe, wasn’t all that good in sports.

■ So she became Miss America, 1952.

The chair umpire for CoCo’s Party Rock Open championship match against Melanie Oudin was a fellow named Alex Nieto. He is no relation to the Vandeweghe clan. That much became evident during the third set on a glorious Sunday afternoon for topspin lobs at Darling Tennis Center.

The match was even at a set apiece, but it seemed to be slipping away from the 21-year-old Vandeweghe, who was trying to hold service, trailing 2-love in the third. The third game went to deuce when the strapping Vandeweghe unleashed one of her service rockets.

You couldn’t really see it. But in the manner of a Nolan Ryan fastball, it sounded good.

One of the linesman grunted.

“Advant—”

That serve sounded so good that Mr. Alex Nieto, with the best seat in the house, started to award the point to Ms. Vandeweghe.

Wait a minute.

The linesman had grunted that Ms. Vandeweghe’s service blur was wide.

So at first everybody thought that Mr. Alex Nieto was overruling the linesman, which is his prerogative.

Instead, he deferred to the grunt.

Ms. Vandeweghe immediately went over to the high chair and demanded an explanation, because that serve sure sounded good to her, too.

At first, they spoke calmly. Then Ms. Vandeweghe began to raise her voice and gesture. It went on for at least five minutes.

Ms. Oudin sought out a shady spot.

The crowd began to whistle, which I think was its way of saying it wanted the tennis to resume.

The tennis finally did resume, but not before Ms. Vandeweghe smashed an empty water bottle with her tennis racket. That did not sound as good as her first service.

This is where that tennis cyclops system, which determines if a shot is in or out at Wimbledon and places like that, would have come in handy. But this was a USTA Pro Circuit event, not Wimbledon, or even the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. And having watched a worker struggle for 15 minutes in an attempt to tape Ms. Vandeweghe’s name onto the scoreboard before the final, I knew there was no chance of calling on the cyclops to resolve matters.

So that was pretty much all she wrote for Ms. Vandeweghe, as Ms. Oudin went on to win 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.

Afterward, when the smoke ceased coming from Ms. Vandeweghe’s ears and she excavated her head from a towel, she told Kevin Janison, the Channel 3 weatherman, tennis enthusiast and tournament master of ceremonies, that she probably shouldn’t have gone on with Mr. Nieto like that.

Ms. Vandeweghe still had a doubles match to play. Before she left the court to rest up she told me all she wanted was an explanation from Mr. Nieto, but that she never got one. And that this was the second time she had had a run-in with Mr. Nieto, who kept talking over the top of her.

You could tell she wanted to get out of the sun and get a bottle of Gatorade or something, so that’s where we left it.

I didn’t get a chance to ask about her famous family, about the difficulty of making a name for herself, about the difficulty of moving up in the computer rankings when one is out pounding groundstrokes in tournaments that pay $7,600 to win.

Or about what she said Saturday night here, after advancing to the final.

Before winning her first match at this year’s U.S. Open, Ms. Vandeweghe said she had been doing some soul-searching with Kathy Rinaldi, who won three titles during her career.

“She said I should go out there and have a good attitude and stop complaining,” Ms. Vandeweghe had said on Saturday night.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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