INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and Coco Gauff is on the other side of the world, in Doha, Qatar, talking about an impending milestone -- one she can’t wait to reach.

“I’m hoping that by the time I’m 20, they can stop mentioning my age,” she said in an interview with “Starting at 15, I feel like it’s been so long, five years of the same thing. It’ll be nice to be called -- what’s the next thing they’ll call me?

Call her precocious, intelligent, astonishingly put together for any age.

“They won’t call me teenager anymore,” Gauff said, “that’s for sure.”

On Wednesday, here at the BNP Paribas Open, Gauff turned 20. Like Iga Swiatek, who also won her first Grand Slam singles title at 19, age has always been an integral part of the emerging Gauff narrative. She won the junior girls title at Roland Garros at 14 and reached the fourth round of the main draw at Wimbledon a year later.

“Age is only a number,” she said Saturday after another escape job, a tenuous victory over Clara Burel in a third-set tiebreak. “Hopefully, I can close out this chapter of my life. I did everything I wanted to do.

“I’m going to be out here for at least another 10 years.”

She celebrated her birthday with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Elise Mertens to make her second Indian Wells quarterfinal. And thus begins the next decade of Coco Gauff.

A breathtaking breakthrough

After going so deep at Wimbledon, Gauff was immediately viewed as a phenomenon -- a development that has proved fatal to a number of other players who enjoyed early success. And while she progressed steadily, it wasn’t fast enough for some observers.

She won modest tournaments in Linz and Parma, in 2019 and 2021 respectively, and made her first major final at Roland Garros in 2022, but it wasn’t until last summer that all that talent and promise attained critical mass. In a sizzling span of six weeks, Gauff won her first WTA 500 title in Washington, D.C., her first 1000 in Cincinnati and, ultimately, first Grand Slam singles title at the US Open. 

Gauff, by a broad consensus, is one of the fastest players in the game. That asset allowed her to beat many players early on without risking much on the offensive side. But going forward, it was a defensive mode that didn’t always work against more powerful, higher-ranked opponents.


But as she gradually grew into her 5-foot-9 frame, Gauff’s power increased. When Brad Gilbert began coaching her, beginning in Washington D.C., a year ago, the baseline defense and opportunistic offense came together. The US Open, which vaulted her to World No.3, proved she could step aggressively into the court and succeed at the elite level. Perhaps more importantly, that accomplishment proved it to Gauff.

What’s the difference between thinking you can win a major -- and knowing it?

“I think it’s just more confidence,” she said in Doha. “Like even when you’re playing bad in the match, you know you can come out of it. You’ve just got to figure it out. 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.’

“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 if you’ve done something before there’s more a probability of it happening again.”

Room to improve

Consistency can be a challenge for younger players, but at the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, Gauff put together a remarkable piece of work. She reached six consecutive semifinals -- including two majors, two WTA 1000s and the WTA Finals in Cancun.

“Man, I didn’t know that,” Gauff said. “That’s cool. I would say that honestly, last year that was one of my goals. I wanted to do better at the 1000-level events and be more consistent. Obviously, I’ve proved I can do that.

“That’s a really cool stat and puts everything into perspective.”

Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, has watched Gauff grow up on the court. She’s called her matches for Tennis Channel and Amazon UK and is impressed with the poise that streak required.

“It shows how much she’s matured -- managed her emotions as well as her game. She has much more clarity about what she wants to do on the court. Other than the forehand going off at times, she doesn’t miss, really. 

“And she runs down everything, so you have to play three, four more balls. Then when the point is restarted completely, you have to win the point twice. And then opponents start making mistakes.”

Gauff said she never sat down with her team in the offseason and discussed 2024 goals but wants to win another major and a medal at the Summer Olympics. She’ll give herself a chance by playing in all three events in Paris.

“It’s not about performance-based goals but how I’m getting those results -- not necessarily the results themselves,” she said. “I’m focusing on not giving away as many free points. Also, the decision making has been better. That only comes with experience. I think the more I play, the better I’ll get at that.”

Shot of the Month: Gauff's hot shot in Dubai lands her the top spot

Enjoying the ride

Gauff’s parents, Corey and Candi, have worked hard to keep her grounded -- and engaged in the world around her. A lot of professional athletes wrap themselves in the cocoon of their insular existence. Not Gauff. 

Her grandmother was the first Black student at her high school in Delray Beach, Florida in the early 1960s, and Gauff often takes to social media to weigh in on societal issues. She is determined to use her platform for change.

“I just feel like I have to take a strong stance,” Gauff said. “The biggest thing is that you’re more than whatever social construct puts you in -- I’m more than a tennis player. Growing up in tennis, coming from the lineage like Billie Jean King, Venus Williams, Althea Gibson, I feel like this sport is very popular in advocating for equality and justice.

“I feel like every figure in history that we studied, that we considered great people, there were a lot of people during that time that considered them a terrible person. My goal is to tell my grandkids that I was on the right side of history.”

The April cover of Vogue Magazine features Gauff in a dazzling gold dress. And she’s one of 12 women profiled in an upcoming TIME Magazine issue dedicated to Women of the Year. Exposure in those two diverse publications underlines the broad range of Gauff’s interests, as well as her growing universal appeal.

“The other day I was actually talking about it to Serena,” Gauff told reporters here. “How much of a presence she had off the court. That kind of matched her presence on the court, and I think that’s what brought more fans to tennis. Kind of paved the path for people like me to be on the cover.”

Yes, Gauff can casually drop the S-word, she’s met Michelle Obama and is becoming a global A-list celebrity for those well beyond casual tennis fans. Depending on the publication, Gauff is either the highest-paid or second-highest-paid female athlete in the world, earning more than $23 million -- $16 million from endorsements alone.

“I was at the TIME gala last [week],” Gauff said. “I walk into that room, and I just don’t feel famous. People approach me and they think I’m some extraordinary being -- and I’m not. I’m a tennis player and a person who tries to uplift the people around her.”

Back when she was a young teenager, Gauff was the subject of a Delray Beach Magazine profile. Her mother was so excited, she had the layout blown up and framed. It still hangs today in Coco’s bedroom, but she said she feels a little weird seeing pictures of herself.

The Vogue and future TIME covers and all the accomplishments they represent will not follow the same path. Gauff said she’ll get copies and keep them somewhere less prominent. That says a lot about the person she has become.

What would she tell that 13-year-old, the local tennis phenom?

“I wouldn’t change anything,” Gauff said. “I guess I would just tell myself just to relax a little bit more. That’s probably going to be the thing I need to tell myself my whole life.”