Luxembourg | Gauff loses with a whimper
Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff claimed her first WTA title last week in Linz at the tender age of 15, the youngest champion on the WTA Tour since 2004, the year she was born.
Yes, Wimbledon and US Open was great, but it wasn’t even really on the schedule for this year. Cori Gauff
It was an amazing performance, particularly since the American lost in the qualifying and was then awarded a second chance as a lucky loser in the main draw.
In an interview with the Guardian, she said: “To everyone who said I couldn’t do it and that I was a one-timer, this was a one-time thing. Joke’s on you!”
She was responding to the trolls on social media, who make disparaging remarks about the youngster.
This is no ordinary teenager, though, but one that is mature beyond her years, both on and off the court.
A few hours after winning her first title and going viral for the umpteenth time, Gauff celebrated her victory on her phone, firing up her Instagram and tuning in on the celebratory livestream.
“After Wimbledon and the US Open people were saying: ‘Oh, you’re just a one-time thing. That’s a lot of hype,’” she said.
“People would get mad that other people would talk about me, and say: ‘Why aren’t you hyping them? Why do you hype yourself up?’ I try to get people to [understand] that it’s not me posting about myself. It’s other people, I can’t help it!
“I never really took it to heart. I guess I just used it as motivation to prove them wrong that I’m working hard here to stay on tour, not just be here.
“Yes, Wimbledon and US Open was great, but it wasn’t even really on the schedule for this year.”
Gauff has been in the spotlight since the juniors so her appearance on the main tour was bound to attract interest, but she lost in the second round of qualifying for the French Open, acknowledging the pressure she felt she had placed on herself.
“I had to remind myself that I am 15 and that I have the rest of my life to continue to improve and play tennis,” she reflected.
She fully captured the public’s awareness at Wimbledon where her third-round match against Polona Hercog registered 5.2m viewers in the UK, while in the US, her singles matches were the most viewed of each day.
Even when she played doubles at the US Open, the 14,053-seater Louis Armstrong Stadium was full.
In January, Gauff had told her friends that her goal of the season was to reach the top 100 from her ranking of 800, and she is now standing proud at No 71.
“I was losing in the first round of qualifying in a $25k. I was getting frustrated, because I was like: ‘There’s no way this is gonna happen!’ “ she told the Guardian.
After Linz, the 15-year-old was emotionally and physically spent, but still due to play in Luxembourg.
There she closed her incredible season with an unremarkable 6-4 6-0 loss to Anna Blinkova in 58 minutes, but it doesn’t matter.
While the Russian was clinical in her play, making only 5 unforced errors and hitting 18 winners, her opponent looked mentally fatigued.
“I’m very happy with my performance,” Blinkova said. “I didn’t make a lot of mistakes and I had the right tactics.
“I was calm and I did my job well today.
“I was very focused. I know she’s a great player and I knew she was coming off a WTA tournament win, so I was well prepared.”
The 8th seed kept the pressure on the youngster, who lost 55% of the points behind the initial shot, facing 6 break points and giving her serve away 5 times to propel the Russian through.
Blinkova grabbed the opening set with breaks in games 3 and 5, dominating in the rest of the match to secure a bagel and book her place in the second round.
Meanwhile, another American youngster and Gauff’s doubles partner, Catherine McNally, lost to Linz finalist Jelena Ostapenko, 7-5 7-6, in an hour and 48 minutes, with the Latvian fending off 5 out of 7 break chances and prevailing in the pivotal moments to seal the deal in straight sets.
The pair, however, are still in the doubles, having won their opening match and they will fight on together, ignoring any remaining trolls who leave nasty messages on Instagram.
Gauff’s belief in herself remains un-dented and she frequently says she intends to be the greatest. Few now doubt that she is wrong.
“My dad has always instilled in me that I can do anything I want and he always tells me: ‘Just don’t limit yourself and set your goals as high as possible.’
“I think that’s the reason why I believe in myself so much and everything I’ve done, I guess, for 15 has been great.
“People always talk about my age. For other people it seems to be a big deal but for me it’s just my reality.
“Ever since I was young my parents have always told me I could do it. So, a lot of the things that happened, yes, it’s surprising but it’s not as big a surprise as it appears to everyone else.”
Gauff is tall, lanky and fast, and she covers the court with just a couple of strides, plus she has a tennis brain that adapts her game to whatever is necessary to win.
Her powerful serve and groundstrokes are teamed with delicate and brilliantly disguised drop-shots that, in Linz, caught everyone by surprise.
“I literally did them once in the first round and then I realised that it worked so I decided to keep doing it the rest of the tournament,” she said. “It wasn’t really a tactic that my dad or anyone told me to do.
“It just kinda happened on my own on the court. I guess I just kept using it.”
Still growing, it was always going to be a difficult assignment for Gauff, to follow up her sensational week in Austria with a win in Luxembourg.
Here she struggled on serve, failing to win a single point when her first delivery faltered and taking just 4 of 12 points when it found its mark.
The opening 2 games were competitive, but after Blinkova established a 2-0 lead, she pulled away and won the final 4 games with the loss of just 3 points.
For Gauff it was step too far on this occasion, but watch out for her, because she will be back soon with much to prove.