Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff, 15, loses at Wimbledon
Even though the 15-year-old’s historic Wimbledon concluded on “Manic Monday,” it’s no stretch to say she has now become an idol herself.
Indeed, the world fell in love with the precocious American and that continued even in a 6-3 6-3 defeat to Simona Halep on the same court where her transformative fortnight began with a victory over one of her tennis idols, Venus Williams.
“I really did feel like I was probably playing in New York somewhere,” Gauff told reporters. “It was really surprising because you don’t really expect this kind of support when you’re in another country.”
TV figures from host broadcaster BBC showed that her nail biting win over Polona Hercog in the third round drew the highest peak Wimbledon audience in Britain of the first five days. In house she was cheered on by the throngs occupying the green Henman Hill.
And back home in Delray Beach, dad Corey’s bar was packed with locals who watched her become the youngest winner at Wimbledon since Jennifer Capriati in 1991.
The likes of former first lady Obama and artist Jaden Smith sent congratulatory messages on social media, which Gauff certainly took note of.
“It definitely feels like everything happened so quickly,” said Gauff. “These two weeks have been amazing.”
Unsurprisingly, sponsors have also noticed.
Currently backed by New Balance, Head and pasta maker Barilla, phones have been “ringing off the hook” at her management company Team 8.
But powerhouse agent Tony Godsick says they won’t be rushing into deals.
“A lot of the sponsor inquiries are from companies that want to be part of this quick success and we are only looking for long-term partners,” Godsick, who founded Team 8 with longtime client Roger Federer, told CNN.
“Once the event is over we will sort through the opportunities and come up with a strategic plan that makes sense for where she is in her development.
“There definitely will be an emphasis on quality as opposed to quantity.”
In the next chapter, quantity is something Gauff wants as it relates to her tournaments for the rest of the season.
Age eligibility restrictions created by the WTA to help prevent burnout — Capriati, for one, struggled to deal with her new found fame — mean Gauff can only participate in seven more professional events prior to her 16th birthday next March.
“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.”
Wise words from Gauff, a player who seems to be mature beyond her early years.
It’s that maturity that led her coach, Frenchman Jean-Christophe Faurel, to say Gauff could handle more tournaments.
For a start, Gauff was convinced she would play at the year’s next major, the US Open in August.
Her ranking is now expected to move inside the top 150, but she will probably still need a wildcard to go straight into the main draw — which seems a formality — otherwise another qualifying week is on the cards.
“I think every case is different but I know Coco, I know her family, she has great parents, a great environment, she has two little brothers, and everything is very sane around her,” Faurel told a pair of reporters in the players’ garden bathed in sunshine.
He added that Gauff wouldn’t be thrown off by all the attention she has received.
“I think she likes it. She’s programmed for that,” he added, perhaps referring to her tennis upbringing that saw Gauff reach world No. 1 in the juniors, make the US Open junior final aged 13 and develop a big entourage.
“So I think she’s ready for that. Everybody is talking about her age but the first time I talked about her age to her father he told me, ‘You know what? Fifteen is just a number.’ So yeah, I’m sure she will handle everything and after I want to help her.”
Steve Simon, head of the WTA, said Gauff’s success at Wimbledon wouldn’t lead to an abrupt revamp of the rules.
“We’re not going to make one decision on one athlete and one tournament,” Simon told CNN.
“She’s got a tremendous future. We will look at things for sure and address things but our first priority is to make sure she’s healthy and has a long career.”
‘I learned a lot’
No matter how much she plays in the short term, Hall of Famer Jim Courier backed Gauff to get the best out of her ability in the long run.
“She’s already a terrific talent but it needs to be nurtured and with her coach and the team they’ve built around her and with the management group which has established that they take the long view with their players, I think she’s well positioned to eventually maximize her obviously tremendous talents,” Courier told CNN.
On Monday, Gauff said her health let her down against former world No. 1 Halep, who wasn’t keen on losing to another American teen after her French Open title defense ended at the hands of 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova.
The trainer and doctor visited Gauff at 1-2 in the second set and she was given medication.
Gauff didn’t know exactly what the issue was but her extended sojourn at Wimbledon — her first grand slam, remember, and via qualifying — possibly contributed.
“I learned a lot,” she said, summing up her Wimbledon experience. “I learned how to play in front of a big crowd. I learned what it was like to be under pressure. I learned a lot and I’m really thankful for this experience.”
Those who watched Wimbledon are thankful to Gauff for making it so memorable already.