WASHINGTON, December 18, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Editor’s note: The 2019 tennis season will be remembered for several new faces who emerged on both the ATP and WTA tours, such as Bianca Andreescu, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Ashleigh Barty, Daniil Medvedev and Coco Gauff.
Today, Tennis TourTalk concludes its series of off-season features that highlight the breakout stars of the ATP and WTA tours with Coco Gauff.
Teen sensation Coco Gauff became the youngest WTA singles champion in 15 years when she won the Upper Austria Ladies Linz during the second-to-last week of the tour’s regular season in mid October. Coupled with the unlikely upset of her idol, seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, in the first round at this summer’s Wimbledon Championships – plus winning two doubles titles with fellow American teen Caty McNally – there were some magical and defining moments for Gauff, who was born and raised in Delray Beach, on the Atlantic coast of Florida in the United States.
As the 15-year-old Gauff, who doesn’t turn 16 until next March, stood front and center on Centre Court inside tiny Tips Arena in Linz on an October Sunday afternoon, during the trophy presentation with her parents – father and coach Corey and mother Candi – and her team watching from court side nearby, she was thrust into an unlikely spotlight. But it was one which the talented and hard-hitting Gauff made the most of her historic opportunity.
Though no stranger to winning – she’s a former junior champion – Gauff is still learning how to be as comfortable in speaking before large audiences as she is during her press conferences, where she is poised and thoughtful beyond her years when answering the media’s questions.
“I’ll definitely remember this moment for the rest of my life,” Gauff said during a poignant moment of her Linz victory speech as she clutched the winner’s trophy, after defeating 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2, to win her first WTA singles title after entering the main draw as a lucky loser following the withdrawal of Maria Sakkari with a wrist injury. Along the way, Gauff knocked out top-seed and then-World No. 8 Kiki Bertens – her first win over a Top-40 player – in the quarterfinal round and tour veteran Andrea Petkovic in the semifinals to reach the final.
After beating Ostapenko, it prompted Tennis Channel commentator Lindsay Davenport, who won the 2001 Linz title, to say of Gauff: “It’s a fantastic moment and a moment she won’t forget. We’ll always remember this moment. I’ve got a feeling this is the first of many, many, many titles to come for Coco Gauff.”
During her press conference after her milestone victory, Gauff said, “I guess it’s crazy to say it’s my first WTA title. This was definitely not on the calendar at the beginning of the year, because I didn’t think I’d have a chance to get in, and now I’m the champion, so it’s crazy.”
Looking back, Gauff’s remarkable rookie season, in which she climbed more than 600 places in the WTA world rankings since the end of 2018, followed a stellar junior career that included winning the French Open juniors title last year. Despite the limitations on the number of pro events she could play because of WTA age eligibility rules, Gauff reached the fourth round at Wimbledon after her stunning win over Williams in the first round, then advanced to the third round of the US Open before losing to top seed and defending champion Naomi Osaka, who comforted and praised Gauff afterward in defeat before a sold-out crowd of more than 20,000 that packed Arthur Ashe Stadium. At the US Open, Gauff was treated like a rock star, and with plenty of fan interest in watching her singles matches, she received coveted court assignments on both Louis Armstrong Stadium and Arthur Ashe Stadium.
By winning at Linz, it ensured Gauff’s entry into the WTA Top 100. She finished this season ranked 68th after starting the year at No. 685, which will enable her to enjoy direct entrance to a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in her young career next month at the Australian Open. Her doubles ranking is a very respectable No. 75, too.
As Gauff is gaining confidence as a champion with a firm and focused attitude on court, off the court she’s one who is still enjoying life as a teenager and letting “Coco-mania” run its course. After winning Linz, she described during her press conference how she planned to return home and dress up for Halloween. She’s also a popular figure on social media with more than 600,000 Instagram followers. Following her Wimbledon breakout, Gauff had the opportunity to meet former United States First Lady Michelle Obama during the week she won her first pro doubles title at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
“I won my first WTA title in singles or doubles in Washington, and I also got to meet Miss Michelle Obama, which was really cool as well,” Gauff recently told the Washington Post’s Liz Clarke. Among the topics she and Mrs. Obama spoke about were how to handle pressure and “the importance of following her own path.” She said she and her family enjoyed their time in the nation’s capital and Gauff plans to return to play in the 2020 Citi Open.
The downtime between the end of the 2019 season and the start of the 2020 season has afforded Gauff a chance to catch up on her education online, where she’s a junior in high school. There’s also been time for working out and getting in some on-court practice. Gauff will return to action January 6 when she begins her new season in Auckland, New Zealand, in a WTA International tune-up event, two weeks before the Australian Open.
“I just love competing, so I want to always do well,” Gauff said last summer during the Citi Open, which perfectly sums up her attitude toward competing.
During their final press conference in Washington after Gauff and McNally (nicknamed “McCoco”) won the Citi Open doubles title as a wild card entry, a reporter asked McNally what she liked about playing with her more-famous partner? “My favorite thing about Coco is, honestly, she’s just so laid back, so silly, I think, and super easy to get along with,” she said.
If Gauff represents the future of women’s tennis – and many feel she does – then, the sport is in good hands for years to come.