Editor's Note: In April 2017, the Boca West Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla. hosted the Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines. The winner of the girls' tournament, 13-year-old Cori 'Coco' Gauff, was flown to Paris to compete for a wild card into the Roland Garros junior event with other Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros champions from around the world.
While Gauff ultimately came up short in Paris, she's been making believers of those who watched her in Boca ever since. She finished runner-up at that year's junior US Open, to Amanda Anisimova; Gauff didn't drop a set on her way to the final. When she returned to Paris the following year, Gauff defeated fellow American Caty McNally to win her first junior Grand Slam singles title. Later that year, Gauff won another Grand Slam trophy at the US Open, in doubles, with McNally.
On Thursday, Gauff returned to southern Florida to compete in the professional-level Miami Open. And just like she did in her returns to Paris and New York, Gauff won. The 15-year-old defeated—who else? McNally—for her first WTA tour victory, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
As Gauff's professional career gets underway, let's look back at her time in Boca, and why she's been a tennis name to know for years already.
BOCA RATON, Fla.—At the same time that David Goffin was playing in the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters, a player half his age with a similar-sounding last name began her road to Roland Garros with an equally impressive stride. An ocean away from Europe, Cori Gauff—a 13-year-old who you may still be reading about once she turns 26—won the Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines, at the Boca West Country Club.
With the red-clay title comes an all-expenses paid trip to Paris this May, where Gauff will compete on the same surface for a wild card into the junior French Open. It won’t be her first time playing in France; Gauff has trained at the renowned Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, in Nice. It was there that she met Serena Williams, her favorite player—and at the same time, her ultimate target.
When asked about her immediate future, Gauff expressed hope that she could qualify for one or more junior Grand Slams this season. But when asked about her long-term plans, Gauff was more decisive:
“I want to be the greatest of all time.”
Gauff was presented the winner's trophy of the Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines, by fellow American Christina McHale.
This is not the first time Gauff has set such a supremely high bar. She did so late last year when, as a 12-year-old, she won the Orange Bowl, another prestigious junior tournament. And it’s probably not the last time we’ll hear it, given Gauff’s reserved but unmistakable confidence.
Gauff’s drive begins with her parents, both athletes in their college years. Her dad, Corey, was a basketball player at Georgia State; her mom, Candi, ran track at Florida State.
After playing soccer, tennis and gymnastics “when I was younger,” according to the freshly minted teen, Gauff decided to focus solely on tennis when she turned 8. A few years later, along with her two younger brothers, 9-year-old Codey and 3-year-old Cameron, the Gauff family moved from Atlanta to Florida, a junior-tennis haven and professional-tennis incubator.
“He’s helping me get there,” Gauff says about her dad, and her ambition. “Right now I just want to go pro.”
Gauff, nicknamed Coco, is charming with an equally captivating game. Tall for her age but still growing, she overwhelmed her opponents at Boca West with a combination of dexterity and power off of both wings; neither side is a liability. Her advanced groundstrokes have been refined at the New Generation Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, where she works with Togolese coach Gerard Loglo.
While Loglo and Gauff practice on hard courts and Har-Tru, the most common kind of clay court in Florida, the student quickly grew accustomed to the slower, red version at Boca West.
“It was easier,” Gauff said after her final-round win over Victoria Flores, an 18-year-old whose topspin-heavy strokes played right into her hands. “The balls bounced up right to where I wanted. I was able to hit it anywhere I want.”
Gauff has already developed an effective kick serve, which she used to similarly damaging effect on the higher-bouncing surface.
“Always on clay, I feel like the kick serve is definitely something that really frustrates the players,” she says, “whether the person is 6’2” or 5’1”.”
With each winner Gauff struck, a smattering of applause from the club members, and a scream of delight from her biggest fan—her grandmother, Deborah—filled Boca West’s typically tranquil air. “Mama D” will join her granddaughter in Paris, where Gauff and five other winners of the worldwide Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines, will play for a place in the main draw of the junior Grand Slam. She’ll be joined by another 13-year-old, Wei Sijia, who won the Nanjing stop, along with 17-year-old Nathalia Gasparin (nicknamed “the Brazilian Sharapova”) and 16-year-old Anri Nagata.
“The main thing I notice between playing 18-and-under and then 14-and-under is that when you’re up, it’s not over yet,” says Gauff, who won every match at the Orange Bowl and in Boca West in straight sets. “They’re gonna keep fighting, and I just gotta keep pushing to close out the set or match.”
Whether it’s Gauff’s remarkable run or tantalizing potential that’s of greater interest, her play in Paris will be worth following. During Gauff’s semifinal match with Katya Townsend, one spectator sent updates on the prospect’s progress to her 14-year-old in New Jersey. Gauff is a few years away from getting a driver’s license, but her bandwagon is already on the move.
“I’m 13, I have time to…”—and then Gauff stopped to reconsider what she wanted to achieve by the end of this already special season.
“Right now I’m just focusing on getting better, so when I become professional, I will be ready to compete with the top dogs.”