In a more personal, informal blog post, I recount my Nottingham experience of the Mother/Daughter duo of Paula and Sachia. It’s not pretty, and it heralds a few warnings. Read on…
“I’ve never been called for a foot fault in my whole life!”
Monday at the Aegon Open, Nottingham. Early afternoon under cloudy, light grey skies. The call was the first thing I heard as I headed towards Court 4, and making my way past the string of occupied courtside chairs, my first thought was: Serena Williams.
The WTA Queen’s issue with that call is pretty infamous. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the girl who dreams of following in her footsteps seized the opportunity to play the part.
Yet as I viewed Sachia Vickery for the first time – hands on hips at the far baseline – a different name flashed into my mind: Sloane Stephens.
It was in her stance – a stance that suggested a sarcastic “Really?” better than the word itself could. Her voice – very American, a little wheedling and sickly – was more Stephens-esque than Rena-like. And her exasperated smile, combined with the way her gaze switched from ally to accuser, could have been ripped straight from the other American’s face.
However, continuing to watch Vickery for ten or so minutes, I gradually could not compare her to any other player. There was no one else, either in Nottingham or elsewhere, deeply similar to Sachia.
And the reasons for that? Not good.
“C’mon Miss Vick. Let’s go. You got this. Believe. Believe. Belieeeve!”
Quickly spotting the figure speaking – a dark skinned woman with impressively wild curly hair, wearing sports leggings and large gold earrings – I engaged in trying to figure out if this person was related to Sachia. Certainly she was too vocally-allowed to be a mere fan. As Vickery persisted in tossing the court-patroller agonised glances, throwing helpless slumps and strops at her encouragement, and even wheedling pessimistic responses, I came to the conclusion that this must be ‘Mom’.
“Stop it, Miss V. C’mon. Step in. You can do it.”
“I can’t do it!”
“Yes, you can. C’mon, Miss Vick. Right here, Miss Vick. Believe.”
The line of children and adults were throwing the lady glances as she walked up and down behind them. I caught kids swapping grins, and I couldn’t blame them. Sachia’s mother was in her own little world, consumed by her daughter and the match. Despite finding myself stood next to her several times over (totally by chance, of course), I couldn’t bring myself to murmur a simple question. One word would rudely jolt her out of wherever she resided.
Looking at what she was dealing with – whether by choice or call of duty – maybe that wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. But one thing is certain: ‘Miss Vick’ would not have made it through that final qualifying round without Momma’s encouragement.
My passing visit to that match, to my annoyance, is a blur of moody, embarrassing behaviour and constant (emphasis on the constant) coaching. I left after the first set tiebreak had ended in Sachia’s favour, and upon finding out Vickery had won her contest against world number 602 Arantxa Parra-Santonja, I vowed to attend her match the following day.
To see whether this bratty state was a freak one off, or merely the norm, for the young American.
Whilst watching Vickery in Nottingham, I was under the impression that I beheld a top junior player of about seventeen, looking to transition to the main tour. Had that been the case, her attitude would have had a vague excuse. Many juniors carry an immaturity and lack of self-sufficiency that must be drummed out of them by the demands of the pro tour.
But my ignorance deceived me. Sachia Vickery, Queen of Strops, is actually twenty years old. Ejected from juniors two years ago. And coaxed through her every point by Momma.
Research reveals that Sachia’s mother is named Paula. Far from being the sort of pushy parent all too common in the tennis circuit, Paula has dedicated time, effort, and basically her life towards turning her daughter’s tennis dream into a reality. Although her courtside words may come across as annoying, ridiculous or hilarious, they are the product of love and care.
That doesn’t change the fact that although it may be (illegally) helping her daughter now, the constant spoon-feeding may not prove so fantastic in the long run.
On Tuesday, Sachia Vickery took on world number 109 Qiang Wang in the first round of the Aegon Open main draw. Monica Puig versus Lucie Hradecka was being played on the court opposite, and I divided my attention between the two courts. It was adequate to gather just enough information for my investigation. Because the information really wasn’t hard to come by.
Initially spying Paula’s head of curly hair across the Puig match, I headed for the between-space of the two courts. Before I’d entered it, her instructions were clear to be heard.
“In-in-in-in-in!” she chanted – during the point – at her daughter, who huffed and flashed moody looks at Momma when she failed to pull her shot off.
Hugging a white towel round her hunched shoulders (it was freezing), Sachia’s mum was huddled in the corner of a player’s bench. And thanks, I’m sure, to her awkward running commentary, the stretches of seats either side of her were empty.
Defying the unwritten law, I sat down two seats to her right. I got a brief look. But then she turned back to the match, and I did likewise, and we ignored each other.
Or appeared to. She knew this Media Girl was doing something, but she had no idea that the notes I was taking were on her daughter’s attitude, and her own rampant vocals.
Sachia Vickery uses a lot of topspin. Hence, whether or not she’s doing something special, her shot is generally going to drop into the court. Qiang Wang, meanwhile, shows off a very attractive, flat, clean game.
However, this comes back to bite the 23-year-old. Despite their fluidity, these strokes soon become her undoing, as they lack the necessary spin to consistently gravitate them into the court. The two conducted many long baseline rallies, and in the majority of these, Qiang’s gliding shots rued their lack of spin.
With her opponent pulling this many errors, surely this was a day when Vickery could tone it down, reign herself in, and get on with her game?
Don’t count on it.
To tell the tale of the match may make for an interesting story, but it would keep us here a while. Here’s the relevant information from the display:
Despite leading for the best part of the match, Sachia was agitated, stroppy, slumped and… frankly… bratty. She flung her racquet arm around like a seven-year-old engaged in tantrum. At every line call that dared stand against her, she turned accusing, disbelieving looks on linespeople, the umpire, her mother, and the lines themselves. She lacked belief, couldn’t shoulder herself, and needed her mother to sustain her through the contest.
When her daughter produced something that drew an error, went unreturned or – occasionally – became a winner, it couldn’t go unrewarded:
“Nice forward, Sach!”
“THAT’S IT! Step into the ball!”
“That’s it, Sach. Push her. C’mon, Sach, c’mon!”
Often there was no clapping from the uncertain spectators. When there was clapping, the loud, deliberate noise generally came from one woman only.
However, it didn’t stop with the praise of the positives. Regularly – whether in French or English – there were mother/daughter exchanges across the court at changeovers. Whether vocally or in the form of meaningful looks, the transferring was there. By this point, Rafa would have had a warning.
However, it still didn’t stop.
The coaching during rallies got more in-depth:
“Go slow and stay aggressive.”
“Step forward, step in, step IN!”
“Don’t drop shot, she’s too fast.”
And we can’t forget the encouragement and general calm-my-baby-down moments that occurred, well, all the flipping time.
Sachia is looking to Momma for encouragement?
“Right here, Sach. Allez!”
Sachia is somehow up in the set?
“C’mon, Miss V. Big break comin’. Break comin’, break comin’. Let’s go!”
Sachia is moaning and squealing “You gave her the game!” at the umpire?
“C’mon, stay calm. You got this, Sach. C’mon, Miss Vick.”
Sachia holds to love?
“C’mon, Sach! Go break her and we got this.”
Sachia is flipping out – again?
“No, stop shaking your head. Stay positive.” (Sorry – stay positive? Who are we talking to here?)
Sachia is griping “I can’t do it!” whilst a game away from the win at 5-3, final set?
“We got it. Next one, next one. C’mon, Miss Vick. Right here.”
Sachia’s using foul language and smiling in exasperation and squealing and huffing and puffing and strutting around and being negative and trying to blame her own errors on someone else and questioning calls and looking for help and yelping and wailing and… winning?
Pick one of the above responses, and congratulations, you probably have the correct answer.
One last one.
Saschia somehow serves out the match for a 7-6 7-5 victory?
Momma is on her feet, displaying a massive smile, conducting a round of applause… and demonstrating a massive “Phewwww!” to the guys sat several chairs along from her.
I hang around to congratulate Qiang Wang on a well played match (as there is more than one definition for ‘well played’).
And then I walk away.
If Sachia Vickery wants to be the next Serena Williams, she might want to re-examine the state of the current world number one. Serena does not have the best on-court conduct, it’s true. However, she doesn’t need mother Oracene coaching her through every point she plays. Nor does she need anyone coaching her, for that matter. Patrick Mouratoglou may occasionally raise a clenched fist, or flash a proud smile. But little or no emotion shows in the Williams support box. When she’s on the court, Serena Williams is there to fight alone, and she knows that’s the way it should be.
Only one elite player has always stubbornly rejected on-court coaching. That player is the younger Williams sister.
Can a teacher assist a student through an exam, and it not be called cheating? We know the answer. The teacher’s job is to guide in the build-up. When exam time comes, they must stand back, while the student puts lessons learned into action.
Has the damage to Sachia Vickery and her future career already been done?
There was just one point in Tuesday’s match when Sachia used frustrating events for good. When she was broken serving for the match, Vickery fist pumped and, under her breath, urged herself to “Come On”.
If she could do it that one time, then why not any of the others?
The American may have wimpered and moaned between points. But once a rally was underway, her full attention and ability were devoted to the tennis ball and the tennis court. And she could play the game.
Everyone emerges at their own pace, but Vickery would do well to remind herself that Madison Keys, Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens had already made the Australian Open semi-finals by her age. Laura Robson had knocked off massive names, and even Simona Halep was better known than Sachia Vickery. These are all girls gunning for her own dream.
Not all talent is destined to prosper. It can live or it can die, plainly by how it is nurtured. Sachia’s talent, weak or strong, is present. But is the right attitude? And is the right team?
These are questions that need to be addressed and assessed. Preferably before we find ourselves at the 2020 Wimbledon final, examining rallies to the soundtrack of:
“Come on, Miss Vick. Right here, Sachia! Step up to the ball! In-in-in! Believe. Believe. Belieeeeve!”