A year ago, Coco Gauff went into big tournaments hoping she might win. Then, in a remarkable span of five weeks, she took her first titles in a Hologic WTA Tour 500 event, a 1000 and a Grand Slam.
What’s the difference between thinking you can win -- and knowing it?
“It’s confidence,” Gauff said Sunday in Doha, Qatar. “Before, it was ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ Or `I don’t know if I can get out of this hole.’
“Now it’s like I know I can do it -- I just need to figure it out.”
In an interview with WTAtennis.com, the 19-year-old American talked about her recent evolution into a top competitor. Gauff referenced a recent quarterfinal match in Melbourne against Marta Kostyuk that was deadlocked after two tiebreaks.
“I had a bad match -- and I was able to win,” Gauff said. “Not saying I’m always going to make it out of the hole -- I’m bound to lose many more times in the future. But I think it just gives me confidence that if you’ve done something before there’s more a probability of it happening again.”
One of Gauff’s primary goals last year was developing more consistency, particularly at WTA 1000s. At the Qatar TotalEnergies Open, where play began Sunday, she’s riding a telling statistic. Gauff has made six straight semifinals (or better), something no other woman can say.
“Man, I didn’t know that,” Gauff said, laughing. “I said in press that I wanted to do better at the 1000-level events and be more consistent. Obviously, I’ve proved I can do that, so hopefully I can just take it to the end.
“That’s a really cool stat and puts everything into perspective.”
Gauff has played well in the Middle East, posting a 10-5 record in two previous appearances each in Doha and Dubai. In the first round, she’ll play Katerina Siniakova, someone she’s beaten five times out of six. Gauff appreciates the people of Qatar and their hospitality -- but she loves the food.
What’s her go-to?
“Definitely the hummus,” Gauff said. “The hummus is great here.”
Here are a few more leading storylines from Doha:
Iga Swiatek eyes a three-peat
There have been 16 different winners in 21 stagings of the Qatar Open -- but Swiatek has managed to win two in a row. She can become the first since Serena Williams to win the same WTA Tour event three times in a row, going back to the Miami Open 2013-15.
In 2022, the first gem in her crown was Doha -- and it led to a 37-match win streak and her first acquaintance with the No.1 ranking. It happened again in 2023, leading to another year-end No.1. Swiatek has won eight straight matches in Doha.
Martina Navratilova knows what it’s like to set up residence at a marquee event. Nine of her 18 Grand Slam singles titles came at Wimbledon. She likes Swiatek’s chances.
“For sure,” Navratilova said Saturday, “it does give you extra confidence when you know you’ve had success at a place. The court is slower there, which works for her game. With her topspin, the ball really bites. So yeah, I’m not surprised that her results are there in Doha.”
The 22-year-old from Poland is one of only three players to win 75 percent of her WTA 1000 matches. The (very) short list: Serena Williams (84.1 percent), Swiatek (78.8 percent), Maria Sharapova (76.8 percent).
Elena Rybakina won her second title of the year Sunday in Abu Dhabi, besting Daria Kasatkina 6-1, 6-4. That ran her record this year to 11-2.
She started the year with a bang, defeating Aryna Sabalenka 6-0, 6-3 in Brisbane before Sabalenka went on to win her second consecutive title at the Australian Open. Following that result, Rybakina came into Melbourne as one of the leading favorites … only to lose inexplicably to Anna Blinkova 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (20) in a memorable second-round match.
Here’s some context from the folks at Stats Perform -- facts on how extraordinary the 24-year-old who represents Kazakhstan has been: Rybakina’s first match in Doha -- against the winner of Varvara Gracheva and Zhu Lin -- will be her 75th in a WTA 1000 event. A victory would push her to 53, a figure only six players surpassed in that timeframe since 2009. Their names are Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki, Iga Swiatek, Ashleigh Barty and Victoria Azarenka.
Last year Rybakina and Swiatek led all players with 27 wins at WTA 1000s.
Depth of field
This tournament, played at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex, features a 56-player singles draw of remarkable quality. While 18 of the Top 20 are competing, there are also former Grand Slam champions Naomi Osaka and Emma Radacanu creating comeback narratives.
How deep? Magdalena Frech, ranked No.52, was forced to qualify. Which sets up a compelling matchup with Victoria Azarenka, the back-to-back winner in 2012-13.
No.11 seed Diana Shnaider, a teenager coming off a title at the Thailand Open, also qualified. Another 19-year-old, Erica Andreeva -- the older sister of rising star 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva -- qualified as well. As luck would have it, the two played each other on Sunday, with the winner contemplating a possible third-round meeting with World No.1 Swiatek.
Another triple threat?
Very quietly, Jelena Ostapenko is putting together a three-year run reminiscent of her first big splash on tour. The Latvian won the 2017 French Open and, over the course of three seasons, averaged more than 56 wins. After recording 52 in 2022 and 59 last year, she’s in a position to improve that.
She has played four events and has made either a singles or doubles final in all of them, taking the singles titles in Adelaide and Linz.