Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff jumps from 614 to 453 and now 71 after winning her first WTA singles title on Sunday
Gauff took home her first World Tennis Association (WTA) title this week
What’s Next for Coco Gauff?
The Australian Open and then a 16th birthday await Gauff, who has already captivated audiences at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
15-year-old American Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff — has jumped 614 places in the world tennis rankings after one extraordinary season
Coco Gauff was ranked No. 453 on her 15th birthday in March. She is now No. 71 after winning her first WTA singles title on Sunday
Coco Gauff ended her 2019 season on Saturday by winning the doubles title at the Luxembourg Open with Caty McNally. It was a triumphant finish to a year in which the 15-year-old Gauff broke onto the tennis scene with exhilarating runs at Wimbledon and the United States Open.
Last week she won her first WTA singles title and reached No. 71 in the rankings after being No. 453 on her 15th birthday on March 13.
She did it all within the confines of the WTA’s age eligibility rule, which limits the number of tournaments girls under 18 can play.
Many American teenagers look forward to their 16th birthdays because of the resulting increase in driving privileges. When Gauff turns 16 in March, she will gain a different sort of freedom: an increase in the number of tournaments she can play, to 16 from 14.
Gauff competed in 11 tournaments this year after her 15th birthday. Here is what she achieved.
First Match Victory on the WTA Tour
Gauff, ranked 456th, received a wild card to play in the Miami Open, one of the top combined ATP-WTA tour events. On March 21, eight days after her 15th birthday, she made her main-draw debut on the women’s tour. Gauff defeated another American teenager, Caty McNally, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in the first round.
Gauff lost in the second round to 14th-seeded Daria Kasatkina, 6-3, 6-2. The loss disappointed Gauff, who would faced one of her idols, Venus Williams, had she reached the third round. A meeting with Williams would come soon enough.
In a surprising coda to their seasons, the slumping Kasatkina is expected to finish the year ranked just below Gauff.
Toiling in the Tennis Minor Leagues
As most players outside the Top 200 must, Gauff next moved to the International Tennis Federation circuit of smaller tournaments below the WTA level in hopes of earning enough ranking points to gain entry to the elite tier.
At an $80,000 green-clay tournament in Charlottesville, Va., No. 392 Gauff lost in the first round to Zoe Hives, 6-4, 7-6 (3), on April 23.
In Charleston, S.C., the next week, Gauff, then ranked 387th, won two matches in qualifying and two more in the main draw to reach the quarterfinals of the $100,000 I.T.F. tournament. She lost in the quarterfinals to Taylor Townsend, the eventual champion.
Training in Europe
On May 6, in the first round of qualifying at a $100,000 I.T.F. tournament in Bonita Springs, Fla., Gauff suffered her worst loss of the year, falling, 6-1, 6-1, to 334th-ranked Quinn Gleason.
Gauff, ranked No. 354, then headed to France, where she occasionally trains at Patrick Mouratoglou’s academy. In St. Gaudens, France, Gauff reached the quarterfinals of a $60,000 I.T.F. tournament before losing to 154th-ranked Tereza Martincova in three sets. It is the last match she played on the I.T.F. circuit.
Gauff, now 324th, received a wild card into the qualifying draw of the French Open because she won the junior title last year. Gauff won a professional match at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, beating Ankita Raina, 6-4, 6-4. Gauff lost in the second round of qualifying to the Slovene teenager Kaja Juvan, who would later take a set off Serena Williams at Wimbledon.
A Breakthrough at Wimbledon
Gauff, ranked 313th, was surprised to receive a wild card into the qualifying tournament at Wimbledon in late June. She quickly made the most of the opportunity, beating the top-seeded Aliona Bolsova in the first round. The win over 92nd-ranked Bolsova was Gauff’s first victory over a top-100 player. Gauff followed it up with two more wins to reach her first Grand Slam main draw.
When she was placed in the draw against the five-time champion Venus Williams, that became the marquee match of the first round. Gauff created a sensation with a 6-4, 6-4 win over the 39-year-old Williams. Gauff backed that up with a win over Magdalena Rybarikova. That helped her earn a spot on Centre Court in the third round, where she defeated Polona Hercog in the most watched match on TV during the first week at Wimbledon. Gauff’s run ended with a 6-3, 6-3 fourth-round loss to the eventual champion, Simona Halep.
Gaining Fans, and a Title, in Washington
With her success at Wimbledon, Gauff’s ranking soared to No. 146. Now a bona fide star attraction, she was a headliner at the Citi Open in Washington in late July.
She got into the qualifying draw at the last minute. If Gauff had not made the cut, the tournament was planning exhibitions involving her.
Drawing thousands of spectators, Gauff won two matches in qualifying to reach the main draw, where she lost in straight sets to 84th-ranked Zarina Diyas in the first round. Her week continued more successfully in doubles, where she partnered with McNally to win her first WTA title in dominant fashion.
A Must-See Player at the U.S. Open
Having received her maximum of three wild cards, Gauff was unable to enter any other WTA tournaments before the United States Open, but in August the men’s event in Winston-Salem, N.C., arranged an exhibition match between her and top-ranked Ashleigh Barty.
The United States Tennis Association chose not to recognize the WTA’s limit on wild cards and awarded one to 140th-ranked Gauff for the Open. Gauff won two thrilling three-setters in the first two rounds over Anastasia Potapova and Timea Babos before losing to top-seeded Naomi Osaka, 6-3, 6-0, in the third round. Osaka’s consoling Gauff after the match became one of the most memorable moments of the tournament.
From Lucky Loser to Champion
Last week Gauff, ranked 110th, played in her first tournament in more than a month — the Upper Austria Ladies Open in Linz, an indoor hardcourt event. Gauff lost in the second round of qualifying to 130th-ranked Tamara Korpatsch, but she got into the main draw as a lucky loser after the withdrawal of Maria Sakkari.
Gauff took advantage of the opportunity, winning five matches to march to her first WTA singles title. The highlight was a quarterfinal win over eighth-ranked Kiki Bertens, Gauff’s first victory over a top-40 player. With the title, Gauff’s ranking rose to No. 71, which will ensure her entry into more prominent tournaments next season.
She was the youngest player to win a WTA singles title since Nicole Vaidisova, who won two at 15 in 2004. Vaidisova reached a career-high ranking of No. 7 in 2007 and two Grand Slam semifinals before retiring in 2010 at 21. She returned to the tour from 2014 to 2016, when injuries ended her comeback. She finished with six career titles.
Three days after her triumph in Linz, Gauff lost to the 66th-ranked Anna Blinkova, 6-4, 6-0, in the first round at the Luxembourg Open, her last singles match of the season. But Gauff and McNally gained their second title of the year by defeating Kaitlyn Christian and Alexa Guarachi on Saturday, 6-2, 6-2.
NOVEMBER AND BEYOND
What’s on Tap for Next Season?
With her improved ranking, Gauff earned two “merited increases” to raise her tournament limit to 14, so she will be able to play three more events before she turns 16 in March. With her win in Linz, she secured a spot in the main draw of the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 20.
Gauff’s current ranking is probably good enough to gain direct entry into Indian Wells, a top tournament in early March that she is required to enter if eligible.
That leaves one remaining tournament, and it would need to be one Gauff can enter via her ranking.
Exhibition matches do not count toward the WTA age rule, and she is scheduled to play an exhibition in the Bahamas in November, alongside the retired players Andy Roddick, James Blake, Tommy Haas and others to raise money for relief and rebuilding after Hurricane Dorian.