Perfect In Parma, Gauff Sets Her Sights On Paris

Coco Gauff (photo: Marta Magni/MEF Tennis Events)

PARMA/WASHINGTON, May 25, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

On Saturday in Parma, Italy, American teenager Coco Gauff won a double championship to cap a great week on red clay at the Emilia-Romagna Open.

First, the 17-year-old Gauff won her first WTA singles title on clay with a comprehensive 6-1, 6-3 victory over Wang Qiang of China. Then, after a brief respite, she returned with her longtime doubles partner, Caty McNally, and captured the doubles title with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Darija Jurak of Croatia and Andreja Klepac from Slovenia after recovering from a slow start.

It prompted Gauff to declare, “Two titles in one day – not bad.”

Gauff’s education on clay the past two weeks in Italy, first in Rome and later in Parma, included a string of impressive victories. At the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Gauff beat Yulia Putintseva, Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka to set up a much-anticipated quarterfinal against World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty. Down a set, Barty suddenly retired with an arm injury and it thrusted Gauff into the semifinals against fellow teenager Iga Swiatek. The reigning Roland-Garros champion beat Gauff, 7-6 (3), 6-3, but there were valuable lessons learned, which the Delray Beach, Fla., native took with her north to Parma.

After withstanding a double tie-break victory against Kaia Kanepi in the opening round, Gauff polished off Camila Giorgi and Amanda Anisimova in straight sets to advance against Katerina Siniakova in the semifinals. There, Gauff dropped her only set all week but won handily, 7-5, 1-6, 6-2, to reach her first singles final of the season.

In the title match, Gauff engaged Wang in just about every point, pushed her back and kept her from being aggressive. She finished with 21 winners to 21 unforced errors, saved all four break points she faced and broke her opponent four times in eight tries. Wang committed 18 unforced errors and Gauff outpointed her 65-46.

“One of my main goals was wanting to be able to push her back and set up the shots I wanted to hit,” Gauff said during her very well-attended virtual press conference with international media. “Definitely there was a lot of motivation [to win]. I had been thinking about it all week, especially when I got to the semifinals. I thought it would be pretty cool to win both the singles and doubles titles. I’m happy I was able to do that today.”

Tennis TourTalk asked Gauff what her quality wins over the past two weeks in Italy taught her. She said: “For me, I learned a lot about committing to my decisions – my shots. I feel like, sometimes, in the past I would try to push my way out to the finish line. Now, I feel like I’m keeping my foot on the gas pedal the whole match and that’s something I’ve been working on. It’s coming.

“When I first came on tour, I really didn’t trust my decisions. Playing professionally compared to juniors is a completely different game. I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now, with more matches I have a better feeling about how I want to play.”

Gauff was asked to compare her emotional feelings between winning her first title in Linz, Austria, in 2019 and her second one in Parma. “I feel like in Linz I was really nervous closing the match, and I hadn’t been in that moment before,” she said. “Linz was definitely more a sigh of relief, because I think I was up in that third set (against Jelena Ostapenko) and lost a couple of games before I was able to close it out. Whereas here, I said I was just going to go for it and trust myself and trust my decisions, and that’s why I felt like here it felt more like it was meant to be and not relief.”

Looking back, Gauff spoke positively about her successful weekend. “Winning [Parma] definitely means a lot, especially on clay, which is not really a surface that people really associate me with,” she said. “It feels good and I like the dirt now. I always talk about how I don’t like it, but I like it now.”

Looking ahead, Gauff seems ready to take on the challenge of Roland-Garros, where she won a junior girls’ singles title in 2018. Last year, in the women’s main draw, she beat Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-3 in the first round but suffered a disappointing loss in the next round to Martina Trevisan, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.

“I feel really good about going into the French Open, I’m hoping I can continue to build on it and get better,” Gauff said. “I’ll have a week and a day to get ready. I’m hitting good and moving good. My body feels good. My mentality and emotionally I feel good. I think it will be a good tournament for me.”