Coco Gauff’s career is idling along with those of all her locked-down rivals, but her mentor, Patrick Mouratoglou, who has guided Serena Williams to 10 of her 23 grand slams, thinks the American teenager can win a major whenever the tour resumes.
“I can see Coco getting to a final and winning a grand slam,” he says, “and I feel she is not that far away.”
That is a serious – if hardly impartial – vote of confidence in a 16-year-old who has risen from 685 in the world 15 months ago to 52 when the WTA suspended the women’s Tour this month because of coronavirus. Tennis is tentatively scheduled to return in June, although it is more likely to reappear much later than that.
Mouratoglou has worked with Gauff at his academy in the south of France for six years but was as surprised as anyone when it took Simona Halep to stop her in the fourth round at Wimbledon last summer. Gauff was, at 15 years and three months, the youngest in the Open era to reach the main draw. Halep, in the form of her life, went on to crush his main client, Williams, in the final.
The French coach was less shocked when Gauff made another impressive run at the Australian Open in January. She beat Venus Williams for the second time in the first round of a slam, then the defending title-holder, Naomi Osaka, before losing, again in the fourth round, to the tournament’s eventual champion, Sofia Kenin, her 21-year-old friend and compatriot.
Mouratoglou is encouraged that Gauff is very much a work in progress. “The match against Sofia Kenin in Melbourne showed Coco needs to improve. Of course she does. She still plays at an incredible level and the self-belief she has is so strong that she can surprise and maybe win a grand slam. The Australian Open is gone, but why not another one?
“Coco’s tennis is already big. She has a lot of things to her game; a big serve, unbelievable backhand, she does a lot of things. She is able to come to the net. When it is a pressure point, she is able to go for it. She will also play a return volley to put pressure on her opponents.
“She already understands a lot of things in tennis, but still it is not enough. There is still some space for her opponents to win the points.
“Definitely there is still room for improvement. Her maturity is incredible at 16. That’s what stands out most for me. The ways she handles matches, it’s unique. But she is still only 16 and, when you are only 16, you still have so many things you need to improve, which is great.
“The players she has beaten in the slams – Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka – and making the second week of a slam again after making the second week at Wimbledon, at that age, having so much to improve, it says so much about her as a person.”
Gauff has won eight of 11 matches in three of the four grand slams and has placed herself alongside young contenders and champions such as Kenin, Osaka, the 19-year-old US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and Marketa Vondrousova.
Gauff, along with her peers, can do little more than work on her game and fitness while the global halt to sport expands by the day. She had hopes of going to the Tokyo Olympics in July, but that door is closing by the hour. However, the unscheduled tennis break could benefit a young player who is still growing towards physical and emotional maturity at extraordinary pace in an unrelenting environment.