NEW YORK—Maybe it was Victoria Azarenka’s third straight winning poach. Maybe it was the too-easy way that Ash Barty pummeled an overhead for a winner. Maybe it was the scoreline, that quickly went from 3-0 to 4-0 to 5-0 to 6-0. Maybe it was the crowd, which had finally gone quiet after a week of cheers and roars and chants.

Somewhere along the line early in Coco Gauff’s and Caty McNally’s match against Azarenka and Barty on Monday, it became clear that this was going to be the end of the road for McCoco. Not that there was any shame in that. In singles, they had lost to last year’s finalists—McNally to Serena Williams, Gauff to Naomi Osaka. Now in doubles, they were going to lose to two Grand Slam champions. The 15-year-old and the 17-year-old, who had never lost a set together in doubles, had seen the WTA mountaintop, and found out that they still have some climbing to do.

“I think obviously the team we played is super good,” McNally said. “They brought more energy. I think that we needed more energy out there.

Gauff, ever the competitor, wasn’t ready to concede that there’s a team they can’t beat

“Obviously it’s a little bit of a different level because it’s the first match we lost,” Gauff said. “I think we’ll get it next time.”

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McCoco—a fun glimpse of U.S. tennis' future; a needed glimpse of unity

McCoco—a fun glimpse of U.S. tennis' future; a needed glimpse of unity

Photos by Anita Aguilar

There will be many more next times for Gauff and McNally; we just don’t know when they will be. Because of her age, Gauff will be limited in the tournaments she can play, and McNally at 17 is probably a year or two away from being a consistent force on tour. But during their nine-day run in New York, they gave us a teasing glimpse of what the future of U.S. women’s tennis could look like.

Just as important, these two teens, one black, one white, gave us an optimistic symbol of cooperation in a time of division in the U.S. They fought together, they laughed together, they got frustrated together, and after winning, they ran toward each other and did their own version of a chest bump together. No wonder they packed Louis Armstrong Stadium and had a line around the grounds waiting to get in to see them. McCoco's enthusiasm was contagious, and we needed it.

McCoco—a fun glimpse of U.S. tennis' future; a needed glimpse of unity

McCoco—a fun glimpse of U.S. tennis' future; a needed glimpse of unity

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As players, Gauff lived up to expectations, while McNally, in taking a set from Serena, exceeded them. Gauff showed us the same attributes she had shown at Wimbledon: A precocious mix of athleticism, thoughtfulness, and resilience—and a few shots, like the serve and forehand, that need polishing.

“Incredible competitor, incredibly ambitious, and someone who believes in herself,” is how her advisor Patrick Mouratoglou described Gauff. In his mind, those are the essential characteristics of a great player; everything else can flow from there.

“I want to win more,” Gauff said when she was asked what she thought of her Open experience. “I wanted to be here longer obviously and stay here, win the tournament.”

McCoco—a fun glimpse of U.S. tennis' future; a needed glimpse of unity

McCoco—a fun glimpse of U.S. tennis' future; a needed glimpse of unity

Judging by her match against Serena, though, it’s McNally who we’ll be seeing more of soon. She showed off a surprisingly complete attacking game for a teenager; she hits with purpose, uses the whole court, loves to move forward, and knows what to do when she’s there. She also doesn’t seem to have any glaring technical issues with her strokes. McNally may take us into the future with a throwback game. Like Gauff, she’s had a taste of the spotlight, and she wants to get back in it.

“It really motivates me because I enjoyed my time on center court,” McNally said. “I just want to work super hard so I can get back out there as soon as possible playing against the top players.”

It may take a while, maybe five years or more, before we find out how good these two can be. But they gave us a glimpse. I’ll say the same think I said after Gauff’s loss to Naomi Osaka: If this is the future, the future may be better than we think.

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McCoco—a fun glimpse of U.S. tennis' future; a needed glimpse of unity

McCoco—a fun glimpse of U.S. tennis' future; a needed glimpse of unity