What next for Coco Gauff? 15-year-old Wimbledon star ready to come of age despite WTA restrictions

Despite her fairytale run at SW19, Gauff can play only seven more tournaments before her 16th birthday next March

Paul Newman
Wednesday 10 July 2019 16:53
Wimbledon Championships in numbers

A short family holiday and completing last term’s school work are the most immediate items on Cori Gauff’s agenda, but it will not be long before the remarkable 15-year-old American is back on court. Gauff’s extraordinary run here, which ended with her fourth-round defeat to Simona Halep on Monday, has made her one of the most sought-after names among tournament directors around the world.

Gauff is hoping to play on the north American hard-court circuit, which starts at the end of this month in San Jose and Washington, and looks certain to play at the US Open, which begins in less than seven weeks’ time.

The teenager’s world ranking is set to climb next week from No 313 to around No 140, which would comfortably secure her place in the qualifying tournament for Flushing Meadows. However, it seems highly likely that the United States Tennis Association will give her a wild card directly into the main draw of the year’s concluding Grand Slam event.

Under the Women’s Tennis Association’s Age Eligibility Rule, which is designed to prevent the sort of “teenage burn-out” that Jennifer Capriati suffered in the 1990s, Gauff can play only seven more tournaments before her 16th birthday next March. She is also restricted to a maximum of three wild cards per year on the WTA tour.

Some people in Gauff’s entourage would like to see a relaxation of the age rules, but the teenager herself takes a relaxed approach to her schedule. “Even if the restrictions weren’t there, I still think I wouldn't play as much as the older players do, just because I'm still trying to develop my game and I'm still trying to train,” she said.

“I feel like I would obviously play more than the rules state, but I think I wouldn't try to overdo it because I'm still 15. My game isn't nearly as good as I want it to be.”

Tracy Austin, who in 1980 became world No 1 at 17 but won the last of her 30 titles at the age of just 20, approves of the WTA’s restrictions on the number of tournaments youngsters can play.

“The key is that everybody has to give her time,” Austin said here on Tuesday. “I think everybody is jumping in there now and saying she’s going to be a champion, but she’s only 15. I think we really need to let her mature and grow in many ways. With her game she has a great foundation, but if she doesn’t feel too much pressure too soon that would be best.”

Austin, who is combining her appearance in the invitation event here with her broadcasting commitments, reached the quarter-finals of the US Open at the age of 14, holds the record as the youngest player to win a WTA title (at 14 years and 28 days at Portland in 1977) and was the youngest US Open champion at 16 years and nine months. However, a succession of injuries brought an early end to her career.

Conchita Martinez, the Wimbledon champion in 1994 and now the coach of Karolina Pliskova, agrees with the need for restrictions on the number of tournaments younger players can play. “I’m sure it’s a good thing,” she said. “The rules are there because in the past some young players did too much too soon. Players had a lot of injuries and they felt a lot of pressure.”

Gauff lit up Wimbledon

However, Daniela Hantuchova, who won the first of her seven tour titles at the age of 18 in 2002, does not think there is much danger of Gauff being over-exposed. She thinks the sporting background of Gauff’s parents – her father was a basketball player and her mother a gymnast and athlete – has helped them to guide her career.

“Maybe I would be worried with other players who come from different backgrounds as far as their parents are concerned, but I’m not with her,” Hantuchova said. “At the end of the day you want a player to be happy and it’s obvious that being on the court is what makes her happy.”

She added: “Her maturity for such a young age is incredible. I was watching one of her matches in the locker room with a couple of other players and we were saying how mature she was for her age.

“I remember when I was 15. Maybe I had the shots, but my shot selection was all over the place. She plays like someone who has been on the tour for at least five or six years. That for me is the most impressive thing, as well as her movement. She’s still growing and to be so balanced at 15 and to always know what shot to hit from every position on the court, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Halep ultimately proved too strong for Gauff

Austin admitted that she had been surprised by what Gauff had achieved here. “She’s ranked No 313 in the world and when you look at the results she’s had for the rest of the year they don’t match up to this level,” Austin said.

“She really has been able to improve in the last month. Her ball has a lot more depth on it. I think she went out there very cool, calm and collected. I think the win over Venus Williams in the first round just solidified her confidence that she can play at this level now.”

Gauff herself said she did not pay much attention to her world ranking or how many wild cards she has been given. “My parents keep track of that,” she said.“But I'm definitely very happy that my ranking has gone up. It will be a lot easier to get into tournaments.”

She added: “Honestly, I don't know my schedule right now because I wasn't expecting to be here. But my next goal would be to win the next tournament I play."

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