LONDON—The WTA tour's age restriction rules are a hot topic following 15-year-old Coco Gauff's fourth-round run at Wimbledon.
The junior phenom received a wild card into the qualifying tournament and won her first five Wimbledon matches in straight sets, including over Venus Williams in her first main-draw contest. After a turnaround three-set win against Polona Hercog to reach the second week, Gauff fell to former No. 1 Simona Halep, 6-3, 6-3, on Monday.
"I think if she keeps going, she will be Top 10 soon," said Halep. "I think she has a very strong backhand. Also the serve, pretty tough. She's moving very well.
"She's still young. I think she needs a little bit more power. But she's a very, very good player already. The fact that she tries to be aggressive, she tries to work with with the first serve. Second serve, is not soft. I think she has a great game already."
Under the rules, 15-year-olds can play up to 10 professional events, with an addition of another four events based on performance. Gauff has played seven events since turning 15 three months ago, and can play another seven before her next birthday.
The WTA age rules were introduced in the mid-1990s following prominent problems experienced by teenage players on tour, and have been both tightened and loosened in the intervening period.
Gauff suggested that her emergence could prompt another revision.
"Yeah, I definitely understand why the rules are there. It's definitely to protect the player. But obviously I will want to play more," she said. "I heard the rule is under review."
She would like an increase in the allowed amount of tournaments, though she would still play less than a regular schedule.
"I feel like I would obviously play more than the rules state," she said, adding, "Even if the restrictions weren't there, I still think I wouldn't play, like, as much as players do, the older players do, just because I'm still trying to develop my game and I'm still trying to train." (Watch Gauff's full press conference above.)
Roger Federer, whose Team8 agency has been representing Gauff, agrees.
"I understand the rule completely that they want the young players not to play too much. I've told the WTA they should loosen up the rules," he said, adding, "This is not me being involved in any shape or form as Team8 through Coco. I think it would be nice, you know, if they could play more. I feel like it puts in some ways extra pressure on them every tournament they play."
A less restrictive rule could suit the development of some players better, suggested Federer.
"Maybe your best time, and your best time is from 14 to 20 [years old] for some reason," he said. "It's not like for everybody else from 20 to 30. So in a way you take away that opportunity.
"I don't have the perfect solution... we've had the history of some tough parents. But at the same time you're also increasing the pressure for that player each week to produce."
Roger Federer's full press conference:
Rafael Nadal believes the rule is set at about the correct amount of events.
"Fourteen, 15 [events is not that bad. Normally I not playing that much," the 33-year-old joked, having reduced his schedule in recent years."
Having experienced some injuries as a teenager, Nadal noted young players are still developing physically.
"Probably they do it to protect little bit the physical issue. When you are that young, when you have her level of tennis, of course you follow the normal tour and you believe that you can manage very well," he said. "But is true that your body still under development. Sometimes can be little bit dangerous for the injuries in the future.
"I don't have a real opinion on this. But I understand the rule. Maybe it's not bad. Her story is great, very good for our sport to have stories like this. It creates audience, creates positive feelings."
Gauff's performance could also spur other young players, added Halep.
"I think it's a good thing," Halep said. "A positive thing for the tennis because the juniors can see that everything is possible. "They can get motivated. They get confident there is a chance for everybody."
Editor's Note: Beginning Wimbledon ranked outside the Top 300 and gaining entry into qualifying through a wild card, Gauff will crack the Top 150 in the rankings with her run. Under WTA rules, Gauff has accepted the maximum number of three wild cards allowed for 15-year-old players—with the understanding that Grand Slam main draw wild card entries are a separate consideration. She will not be eligible for additional wild cards at WTA tournaments until she turns 16 on March 13, 2020, though is permitted to play WTA-level events by earning direct acceptance into the main or qualifying draws.
Per the WTA, Gauff could make a professional decision to either take advantage of the Merited Increase opportunities under the Age Eligibility Rule, or not. She may play US Open qualifying by direct acceptance, or assuming it is extended, accept a main draw wild card at the US Open, forgoing the Merited Increase opportunity at Flushing Meadows.