MIAMI -- At 19 years old, Coco Gauff has already established herself as one of the best defenders in the women's game. But the World No.6 says she's well aware that the next evolution of her game has to involve a more aggressive mindset. 

After losing to Anastasia Potapova in the third round of the Miami Open, Gauff admitted her propensity for relying on her running shoes got the better of her once again. 

"I think that's kind of been where I've been messing up in all my matches this year," Gauff said after the match. "All the ones I've lost I think I lost because of that. I think [my defense] should be more used as a tool in a toolbox than as a weapon.

"I think I have to change my mentality in the game about not relying on that too much because I think sometimes I play a little bit too passive because I know I can get to balls.

"All the players that are doing well now on tour are big hitters. It's not like I don't have the tools to hit big, because I definitely do, I think it's just more so making that the first decision."

Gauff's Miami loss was her first completed-match loss before the quarterfinal stage of a regular-season tournament since Wimbledon last year. She had made the Round of 16 or better at six of her past seven WTA 1000 appearances, with the lone early loss coming due to a sprained ankle in Cincinnati. 

Despite the setback, Gauff has put together the best season start of her career. She began the year by winning Auckland to capture her third career title and posted consistent quarterfinal and semifinal results through the biggest tournaments on the calendar. She came into Miami at No.7 on the Race to the WTA Finals leaderboard.

"I think I improved throughout the season," Gauff said. "Obviously today was a bit of a letdown for me, but I feel like the decisions I'm making on the court are better than the decisions I was making last year.

"I feel like now I'm not executing at all, frankly. I think I need to work on the execution part because I am executing them in practice, certain moments in practice. It's about transferring that into the match. I think I need to figure out what three things I want to focus on in the match, then maybe go to those points."

Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

Just as Gauff is trying to solve the puzzle of how she wants to play her tennis on hard courts, the tour is now set to move to clay. While most Americans find the transition a frustrating one, Gauff is one of the rare ones who thrive on the surface, as evidenced by her run to the Roland Garros final last year.

"I definitely think the game does simplify a little bit," Gauff said. "I have a clearer picture of how I want to play on that surface. I definitely think physically, usually those are the players that are doing well on clay, so I think that's why it suits me a lot.

"Taking in what I've done on the hard-court season I think will help me into the clay season because last year I didn't have a great start, and that clay season turned it around.

"Even though this tournament didn't go how I wanted, I would say I had a decent start to the year. I'm hoping I can have an even better clay season than last year."

Stuttgart entry list: Swiatek, Sabalenka lead loaded field

But before she heads to Stuttgart for her first clay-court event of the season, Gauff will join Jessica Pegula in Delray Beach, Florida to lead the United States squad against Austria.

Pegula, Rybakina lead Billie Jean King Cup team nominations

"I'm going to use BJK Cup to figure out what I need to do on the hard court to get ready for the hard-court season after Wimbledon," Gauff said.

Champions Reel: How Coco Gauff won Auckland 2023