Coco Gauff’s breakthrough 2019 on the WTA Tour is set to be long remembered by tennis fans.
A spectacular run to the second week at Wimbledon was highlighted by a first-round victory over Venus Williams, while there was also a strong run at the US Open, concluding with her emotional match against Naomi Osaka, and then her remarkable first title in Linz, which came as a lucky loser but included a first Top 10 win, over Kiki Bertens.
In spite of tournament restrictions due to her age, the 15-year-old WTA World No.68 exploded onto the world stage, and admits that during a whirlwind period from July to November, she was given little chance to catch her breath.
“It was a roller coaster that didn’t really come down,” she said. “Now it’s coming down cause of the offseason. It was a great year for me.
“Looking back, it’s surprising, but at that moment I don’t go on the court thinking I’m going to lose – it’s not the right mentality to have. I expected and wanted to win.”
Her victory over Venus at the All England club was a particularly special occasion and one that provided the impetus for her story to grow.
“I didn’t really expect it, but I believed I could win,” she said. “That match was the only match that I had a different goal – I just wanted to see what I could do – but other matches, my goal was to come out winning. When you’re playing Venus, it’s a bit different and that match gave me a lot of confidence.”
Magdalena Rybarikova and Polona Hercog subsequently fell as she became the youngest player into the second week of the Championships since Jennifer Capriati in 1991, having already become the youngest player to qualify for the singles draw, before being defeated by eventual champion Simona Halep, 6-3, 6-3.
Propelled into the spotlight off the back of this run, she has been sent into a world of celebrity encounters that she never thought was possible, but one in particular stands out for the teenager.
“Michelle Obama,” she said. “When I met her, she told me it’s ok to say to no to things because everyone will ask me to do something. She told me it’s ok to say no and just stay focused on your own lane and your own process.
“I met Kevin Hart briefly at the Clippers game, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving. I can’t process it, but it’s crazy to say that I got a chance to meet them and exchange words with them. I didn’t expect that coming into this year – or at all in my lifetime.
“It’s my dream goal to play tennis, I didn’t think of the cameras and all the would come with it. “
Gauff appears to be at ease with the transformation in her life, and indeed when asked what has changed for her since she turned 15 in March, she gave a very definite answer.
“I got my learner’s permit on Wednesday!” she smiled. “I got it eight months late because during the summer I didn’t have any time.
“Now I’m recognised a lot more walking around the city and Florida in general, a lot of celebrities notice me, which is really weird. I went to the people’s choice awards and met all the A-listers there and it was just me. It was my first time going to something like that. It was nerve wracking, but it was fun.”
Looking ahead, she is set to refine her mentality and technique over the winter months, ready to assault the new season, mindful that she can only play three tournaments before she turns 16 on March 13.
“For the offseason, fitness wise, it’s maintaining and improving what I already have. There’s not much I need to correct,” she indicated. “Tennis wise, step into the court more, take more chances, hit through my forehand and improve overall my game.
“This year, I set a lot of goals number wise, which put a lot of pressure on me. Next year, I’m going to set goals improvement wise, not set a ranking goal or a tournament goal. Just improving.
“I’m playing Auckland and the Australian Open. After that, I don’t really know. We have an idea, but with the tournament limit, things could change last minute. I’ve got one more tournament before I turn 16. Most likely it would be Indian Wells, but it could change depending on how I do.”
Gauff will hope these three competitions prove every bit as profitable as the ones that have gone before them and that the memories made in 2019 are just the start of a long and successful career at the top.