Dealing with the pressure of expectations is one of the greatest challenges for young athletes to overcome - particularly those whose prodigious talent means that they are hurled into the public eye at early ages.

In a candid post for Behind The Racquet, teenage phenomenon Coco Gauff has revealed that in 2017-18, when she was 13 years old, she needed to learn to overcome these "low points" in her life. "I was always the youngest to do things, which added hype that I didn't want," the American, whose breakthrough over the past year has seen her reach the fourth rounds of both Wimbledon and the Australian Open on her debut appearances, writes. "It added this pressure that I needed to do well fast... For about a year I was really depressed."

For Gauff, the answer was looking within. "It took many moments sitting, thinking and crying," the 16-year-old writes. "I came out of it stronger and knowing myself better than ever. Everyone asks me how I stay calm on court and I think it’s because I accepted who I am after overcoming low points in my life."

Coco Gauff celebrates winning a point with doubles partner Catherine McNally at the 2020 Australian Open.

Photo by Getty

Both World No.8 Belinda Bencic and World No.24 Donna Vekic, who have both also contributed to Behind The Racquet recently, also struggled with living up to the high early expectations. "Every time I reached a final or won a tournament, the next few after would be a waste," recalls Vekic about her early losing streaks. "I would lose early from all the pressure I put on myself to have to win... After losing a couple matches it gets in your head, thinking I didn't have what it took." As a result, the Croat's enjoyment of a sport she had loved since she was a child diminished.

But improved performances changed her mindset. "I finally admitted to myself that I wasn't enjoying tennis," she recalls. "Things changed and my ranking went from outside the Top 100 to Top 20 in the world. I really grew up, through the natural process of growing up and just became older. I cannot say it was because I was working harder, I was just smarter about it all."

 

Donna Vekic jokes around with good friend Maria Sakkari en route to their Adelaide 2020 second-round match.

Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

Bencic, meanwhile, first cracked the Top 10 at the age of 18 in February 2016 - the youngest Top 10 debutante of the last decade. Until then, her junior career and transition to the pros had been seamless and smooth - meaning that the Swiss player was unprepared for what came next: years of injury-related early losses and multiple surgeries. "While I moved to the top of the sport I just felt too young for all of it," she remembers. "The media attention is something you cannot prepare for, especially if you aren’t naturally open like I am. I never had to deal with something not going my way in my career, and now any failure was directly in the spotlight."

Ranked outside the Top 300 on her return to the game in 2017, she started from the bottom again, beginning her comeback in ITF events instead of trying to pick up where she left off and took the positives from her experience. "I started again, not playing in front of anyone, no one judging me and I found to love it all again," Bencic writes. 

Belinda Bencic practises during St. Petersburg 2020.

Photo by Jimmie48/WTA

Behind the Raquet has the full account of these player stories.

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