While many of her fellow Americans were looking for creative ways to transform Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, Coco Gauff had more urgent matters to attend to. Three weeks before its release, the 17-year-old was locking down tickets to see “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
“I’m glad I did,” she said from Adelaide on the second day of 2022, “because the showing that I went to [in Delray Beach, Florida] was sold out a week before the movie even came out. I saw it twice, and if it’s still in theaters when we get to Melbourne I’m going to try and see it again.”
If you’re one of Gauff’s nearly one million Instagram or Twitter followers, you know she is a big fan. Her recent posts featured in-costume photos, as well as lots of upper-case letters and exclamation points.
“Yes,” Gauff said, laughing, “I am obsessed.”
Her succinct review: “Ten – no, 20 out of 10.”
That’s an appropriate assessment of her burgeoning, somewhat marvelous career, even grading on the curve of expectation produced by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2019 – at the age of 15 and 3 months.
Gauff already has a clear sense of who she is and what she wants to accomplish. And she said she’s buoyed by the recent success of her fellow teenagers, 19-year-olds Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, who reached the final at last year’s the US Open.
“I was super ecstatic for the both of them,” Gauff said. “It was kind of cool to see it happen at a tournament where I guess no one expected that to happen.
We were all in the same tournaments as a juniors, so it’s nice to see someone around my age doing so well.
“Obviously, you can’t be anything but inspired for yourself to do as well, or even better than them.”
… or even better than them.
Gauff is poised for her age and seems remarkably humble, considering her surprising early success. Still, she believes she’s destined for great things. Gauff is the youngest player in the Top 250; you have to scroll down to No.255, Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra, to find someone who was born more recently.
The second-round match in Adelaide gave us a glimpse of what might be in store for Gauff in 2022. After dispatching a qualifier in the first round, she faced World No.1 Ashleigh Barty – and went right at her, leading by 6-4, 4-2. Barty, playing her first match in four months, eventually found an equilibrium (and her forehand) and came back to win the third set 6-1. Still, it was an encouraging outing for Gauff, who is nothing if not fearless.
Beginning 2021 ranked No. 48, a year later Gauff finds herself at No.22. Her record was a stout 36-16 and she showed consistency on all surfaces. Her best run was on clay in the spring, when she reached the semifinals in Rome – beating both Barty and Aryna Sabalenka along the way. She won the singles and doubles titles the following week in Parma and produced a career-best quarterfinal berth at Roland Garros. There was also a finals appearance at the US Open with partner Caty McNally.
The good news for the rest of the WTA?
“I feel like I’m done growing,” Gauff said. “I got measured two months ago and I was 5-foot-9 and a quarter. It’s been like that for the last two or three years. But every time people see my in person they always say I’m getting taller and I’m like, `The measurements don’t agree with you.’”
Objects, as they say, may appear larger in the rear-view mirror. Already a formidable figure, going forward, Gauff has plenty of frame to fill out with more muscle. This, despite her already-forceful groundstrokes and serve. Her 124.9 mile-per-hour serve at last year’s Wimbledon is one of the top-20 clockings of all time for women.
The highlight of her offseason – after Spider-Man, of course – was a visit to Boston’s TD Garden, where she took in a Celtics game against the Los Angeles Lakers. At the end of the third quarter, she was called to the court and handed the basketball to mascot Lucky before he jumped over her and dunked.
The training block was less pleasantly memorable. Working with her coaching father, Corey, and the rest of her team in Florida – where the heat wasn’t far off what players are experiencing in the Australian summer – Gauff put in the hard yards for most of December.
Days began at 8 a.m., with weight work, shoulders, core and upper body. On-court practice sometimes ran three or four hours straight, followed by a break and more fitness work. And then …
“The worst was going on the track and doing workouts,” Gauff said, laughing. “I ran 400s, 200s, 100s – you name it – a lot of times. Those were the times when I did not want to be alive. In the end, though, I was happy.”
She says she’ll continue with a healthy doubles schedule. A year ago, she played 17 tournaments – with nine different partners. She played in Adelaide with McNally, where they were the No.4 seeds. Gauff is convinced that doubles helps her singles game.
“Because I feel like the doubles game is a lot faster,” she said. “When you go into singles, you feel like it’s slower. You worry about fatigue, but I’m still young. But for me, coming from juniors, sometimes we would play two singles matches and a doubles in a day.
“I remember when I transitioned to tour, the one match a day or one every other day. I was like `Oh, my gosh, there’s so much time to rest now.’”
Richard Williams famously mapped out the blueprint for the dominance of his daughters Venus and Serena before they were born. The movie “King Richard” pays homage to his vision and the sisters’ non-traditional tennis upbringing. Corey and his wife, Candi, realized Coco had uncommon potential when she was in second grade and they, too, sacrificed a great deal to give her the best tools for success.
Like Richard Williams, Corey was not well-versed in tennis, but he’s been a quick study. Over the years, Gauff has trained at Patrick Mouratoglou’s tennis academy in France. He also coaches Serena Williams.
Five years ago, Gauff was coming off her 12-under Junior Orange Bowl title, joining Stephanie Graf (1981), Monica Seles (1985) and Jennifer Capriati (1986) – who all went on to become No.1 and won a collective 34 Grand Slam titles.
In one of her first major interviews, she told a reporter she wanted to be the greatest tennis player of all time. Five years later – almost to the day – she was asked if she thought she was on schedule.
“For me,” she said, “there’s not really a schedule to it. I would say I’m more than ahead of schedule because I don’t really know what plan my parents or my team laid out for me. I don’t know what’s in it – or not in it.
“I will say, definitely, I’m always the type of person who’s never satisfied, I always want to better and be hungry. When I win a tournament, I’m already looking forward to the next. But sometimes I try to take a step back and really enjoy the things I’ve accomplished.”
The key word here is try. It’s quite possible that she’s the most demanding member of her team.
“That’s something I’ve been working on – and something people tell me I need to work on,” Gauff said. “So would say I’m doing pretty well, but obviously, I want to do better – and I will do better.
While her ultimate tennis goal remains the same – to win a Grand Slam singles title – Gauff has a few new resolutions for 2022. She’s vowing to spend more time doing more pre-visualization – creating images of positive outcomes – and writing in her journal. Oh, and there’s this:
“Less time on TikTok – yeah, that’s the biggest one,” she said. “I don’t know my exact screen time, but I would say, for sure at least two to three hours a day.
“I’ve got to work on that.”