Gauff's a crowd puller after Wimbledon exploits

Coco Gauff serving to Maegan Manasse during qualifying for the Citi Open at Rock Creek Tennis Centre on Saturday in Washington. The teen sensation drew a crowd of 3,000.
Coco Gauff serving to Maegan Manasse during qualifying for the Citi Open at Rock Creek Tennis Centre on Saturday in Washington. The teen sensation drew a crowd of 3,000. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • The moment Coco Gauff sits on a couch in a shady spot at Washington's Rock Creek Park Tennis Centre and says, "I feel like me, as a person, didn't change," you hope that it is true, that it is true today, next week, next year and beyond.

There are the plain facts: Two months ago, she could have entered the qualifying draw for this week's Citi Open and been little more than a curiosity, a promising player who had success in juniors, known only to tennis cognoscenti.

Now, she played what normally would be an obscure match, her first since losing to eventual winner Simona Halep in the round of 16 at Wimbledon earlier this month, as a flat-out star in front of a crowd of 3,000 on Saturday night - the largest in memory for the event's qualifying rounds.

She is 15, and her mere presence - playing or not - helps shape Washington's annual tennis event.

She is a value add, a reason to come out.

"The outside has changed," Gauff said, after beating fellow American Maegan Manasse 6-4, 6-2.

 

  • 386K 

    Followers of Coco Gauff on Instagram, a jump from 30,000 before her Wimbledon exploits.

"That's what's different."

There is no getting around it.

Former United States first lady Michelle Obama mentioned her in a tweet. Solange Knowles, sister of pop star Beyonce, messaged her on Instagram, which would not have happened before she beat seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams in Wimbledon's opening round.

Simultaneously becoming a star and remaining a growing young woman is a lot for anyone, let alone a teenager. When Wimbledon began, she had 30,000 Instagram followers. Now, she has 386,000.

What does that mean? It means more people want to know everything about her. It means more people think she matters.

"I should see if I have the world record for biggest jump in followers," she said.

Gauff did not thump her chest when she said it. Save that for the biggest moments in the biggest matches.

Before Wimbledon, she could go to a cinema or walk through an airport unnoticed. After the Major, she is now a star who must keep her gaze forward, lest the outside distract her, although her "dreams haven't changed".

This was striking in London, and it is striking now.

Even as she looked absolutely astonished following match point against Williams, even as she sobbed in celebration, Gauff was clear that she had prepared for such moments.

It is clear that she is not about limits. "My dreams, they'll always be the same until I actually accomplish them," Gauff said. And they are, for the record: "Be No. 1, win Grand Slams. My overall goal is to be the greatest of all time."

However, she is presently limited by the WTA Tour's cap on the number of tournaments she can take part in owing to her age.

According to the New York Post, she is permitted to play 12 events, so this is likely to be the last time she will be in competitive action before next month's US Open.

But at the moment, the tennis world needs more Gauff, not less.

"I understand the rules, and it's meant to protect the young player," she said. "...But I do wish they could adjust it maybe just a little bit."

In the meantime, she is hoping to make use of the few remaining chances she has to play on the WTA Tour this year, and try to adjust to her new-found fame.

"It doesn't feel normal at all," Gauff said. "I'm still getting used to it. I don't know when I'll get used to it or if I'll ever get used to it, but I'm super grateful for all the people that are cheering for me."

NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2019, with the headline 'Gauff's a crowd puller after Wimbledon exploits'. Print Edition | Subscribe