Coco Gauff looks relaxed, but focused, as she hit the practice court this morning, under the watchful eye of Brad Gilbert, less than 24 hours after reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the first time.
Historically, playing at Melbourne Park has netted her less wins than any of the other three Grand Slams, but if her form this week is a pre-cursor of things to come, there’s every chance she’ll be there on Saturday night, fighting for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, named after the 5-time singles champion.
There’s been plenty of chatter about the young brigade of teenagers coming through the ranks. Mirra Andreeva (16 years old), Alina Korneeva (16), Brenda Fruhvirtova (16), Linda Fruhvirtova (18), and Linda Noskova (19) have all had their shining moments over the past fortnight.
But when looking at who remained into the fourth round, there were only 3 teenagers left in the field. Mirra Andreeva, who went down in a tough 3-setter yesterday against Barbora Krejcikova, Linda Noskova, who plays today against Elina Svitolina, and one other, who is already through to the quarter-finals….Coco Gauff.
It’s so easy to forget that this mature, well-spoken, brilliantly talented athlete, is still a couple of months away from turning 20. In fact, even Coco herself can forget:
“Yeah, honestly this morning I saw, like, a post, I think USTA posted. It was like three fourth rounds of US Open, first teenager. Sometimes I forget. I know I'm not going to be a teenager anymore, but I just feel like I've lived so many lives the last four years, that I just feel older than 19. I remember like when I'm looking at the other girls on tour who are 16, and now coming up, 16, 17, like they just feel so young and I just feel so old. I know I'm not that old. But, yeah, I definitely do forget my age a lot. Yeah, 100%.”
Coco has been playing on the professional tour since 2018, at the age of just 14, and while some pundits were writing her off last year, Gauff completely flipped the narrative on its head, by taking out the US Open in scintillating style…and don’t think she wasn’t aware of the criticism being aimed at her…
“I tried my best to carry this with grace….Honestly, to those who thought you were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it – and now I’m really burning so bright right now.”
Indeed she is. She is now on an 11 match winning streak at Slams, and with most of the seeds falling in the early rounds, you’d have to say the path to the title has just one stumbling block…Aryna Sabalenka, who she will potentially meet in the semi-finals.
From starting so young, Coco has had to deal with a lot of things most teenagers don’t have to deal with. Life on the road, being away from friends and family, remote schooling, public criticism, and adulation. But Coco appears to have an extremely strong family bond, who have done everything they can to make decisions in the best interests of her, for the present, and the future.
But now, as she nears closer to waving goodbye to her teenage years, Gauff is taking more of a hands-on approach to her life, both on and off the court. ‘Team Coco’ is in a transition. ‘Team Coco’ is about to have a new CEO…Coco Gauff herself.
“As each season goes, I've definitely been more vocal about what I want on and off the court…..At first, like 15, 16, my parents were doing a lot of it for me just so I could focus on tennis. Now moving into more of the role. I'm getting older, having to make more decisions, all of that, on and off court. Yeah, I think for me, I know myself pretty well. I know what I need to do to succeed, not every single thing. That's why we have coaches and people that advise me.
As a player, I think all the great players kind of know what they need to do and need help from others. I think for me, I know what I need to do. It's just all about having the right team to guide me into that path on how I want to do it or how I want to train or how I want to, I don't know, work with certain brands, stuff like that. It's definitely been a progress with each year. Adulthood is something I'm really enjoying learning. I'm not completely there, but every year I think I'm getting better and better at it.”
It would be understandable for her father, who has been in charge for so many years, to feel some hesitation in handing over the reins, but Coco says there hasn’t been an issue with it at all.
“My dad naturally - not protective, not even make decisions, but naturally he'll just be protective and be like, I can say no for you if you want me to. Or, I can always be the bad guy. Whenever he needs to be the bad guy, he'll just be like, ‘Blame it on me’. He doesn't really care what people think about him. I always appreciate having, like, him by my side.
Because me, I'm also in the position I probably can't be as assertive as him just because of me. In general, I think he's just always been the one to do those decisions. Now he kind of stepped back in the role and just saying like, I'm here if you need me, but I'm not going to make decisions for you, but I can give you advice, all of that. There's never been pushback. I think that's just how they always raised me, slowly letting me see the behind-the-scenes stuff and teaching me about it.”
In regards to the on-court side of her life, part of growing up and maturing, has been learning how to deal with the second week of a major, taking advice from others, and using it for her own life. Interestingly, it was someone from that close family unit that helped her back in September last year at Flushing Meadows - her brother Codey.
“Have fun and relax. I think as you get later, the trophy obviously gets closer and closer. You have to treat it that it's as far away as it is if you're in the first round. That's what I approached that final. I didn't approach it as I just need to win two sets and I have it. I approached it as I need to win seven matches again and then I'll get it.”
“He told me, Pretend that you have to win three sets instead of two. If you put your mindset into the say you have to win eight matches instead of seven. It's like changing your mindset so it feels further….I think tricking your mind kind of relaxes the body because your mind controls your body. You have to trick your mind a little bit.”
Coco will play her quarter-final tomorrow, against Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk. The pair have met once, in Adelaide, back in 2022, with Gauff winning in 3 sets.