Wimbledon 2019: High hopes for Coco Gauff after astonishing Wimbledon run

Her Wimbledon run was so extraordinary that Serena Williams and Andy Murray had to cancel their plans.

“It was definitely the best week of my life,” Coco Gauff told the BBC – few 15-year-olds will have had better.

This American – a qualifier, remember – is why Wimbledon 2019 will live long in the memory for all who have experienced it. She enjoyed a rise to stardom so rapid that she became the hottest ticket in town.

Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion and whose face adorns posters in Gauff’s bedroom, called her an “absolute star”. Her eventual conqueror, Simona Halep, said “she will be top 10 soon”.

The likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama, Jaden Smith and Beyonce’s mum all became interested in the youngster from Florida, who, still eight months shy of her sweet 16, will soon fly back across the pond to finish her school year.

But despite her remarkable run to the fourth round at the All England Club, Gauff has remained humble and showed a maturity throughout.

“I learned a lot,” she said. “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.

“I hope they learned about me – that I’m a fighter and I’ll never give up.

“I hope they learned from me that anything is possible if you work hard, just continue to dream big.”

In reaching the last 16, she pockets £176,000 but, not yet old enough to drive, plans to make her first purchase a new hoodie. She will soon go on a mini holiday with her family. Her parents – themselves former sportspeople – have been a constant by her side through her journey to the second week.

And a holiday is just what she needs. She looked out of sorts against Halep, an upset stomach blighting her performance as the Romanian former world number one proved a challenge too far for a player who, only a couple of weeks ago, was sitting a science exam.

Yet Halep, among others, has high expectations for the new kid on the block.

“She has potential to be a very good player,” she said.

“It’s a huge thing that she is able to play in the fourth round at Wimbledon, and if she keeps going, she will be top 10 soon.”

How did she do it?
Twelve months ago, Gauff entered the Wimbledon junior competition and could not get beyond the quarter-finals. A lot can change in a year.

In qualifying at Roehampton in June, she became the youngest player in the Open era to qualify for the main draw, but it was her straight-set victory over five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams – 24 years her senior – that announced her arrival.

Next up was former Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova in a match that would see Gauff become the youngest player to reach the last 32 at Wimbledon since fellow American Jennifer Capriati, who reached the semi-finals in 1991, also aged 15.

Prior to the match, she had chatted with Roger Federer and was watched in practice by Rafael Nadal and, in a performance that belied her years, she looked at home on the grass as she wrapped up victory in straight sets.

Polona Hercog was the next to try to take her down, and it looked as though that was exactly what was going to happen when she won the first set.

Yet, in her most astonishing performance to date, Gauff saved two match points before launching a comeback even the very best would be proud of, one which forced Murray and Williams’ mixed doubles debut to be postponed until the following day.

Despite a straight-sets defeat by Halep, Gauff leaves London knowing she has left her mark.

“It just shows that even though I’m young, my game gives these players a little bit of a hustle,” Gauff said.

“I can’t put into words how I feel, I don’t know how long it will take until it sinks in.”

Where does she go from here?
WTA rules dictate Gauff can play only 10 professional tournaments between her 15th and 16th birthdays. With five already under her belt, Gauff will make reaching next month’s US Open her priority. Her Wimbledon performance has bumped her into the world top 150, a ranking that will leave her hoping to be handed a wildcard for the main draw in New York.

But now she is in the limelight, she won’t be leaving it any time soon. She will need to be carefully managed, with new sponsorship deals and increased media interest undoubtedly headed her way.

But, as her “idol” Williams says, keeping her grounded falls on all the people around her.

“We’re not famous when we go home or when we go to sleep and we shut our eyes,” she said. “We really look at ourselves as anyone else. We really always try to remain incredibly humble.

“I really think it boils down to parents and role models.

“She’s a complete star. I personally was nothing like her at 15. First of all, I didn’t play like that. I didn’t look like that. She’s just so poised. I was somewhere watching cartoons, for sure.”

Gauff has previously spoken of her desire to go to college, a “requirement” from her parents though she plans to complete her education online, allowing her to continue playing professionally.

“She will be a very tough opponent for everybody. If she keeps doing what she did here, she’s going to get a lot of confidence and she can win big tournaments soon,” added Halep.

“I think it’s a good thing, a positive thing, for tennis because the juniors can see that everything is possible. They can get motivated. They get confident there is a chance for everybody.”