The 21 & Under Club, 2020 Edition: Coco Gauff

The 21 & Under Club, 2020 Edition: Coco Gauff

Her blistering serve and exceptional speed are likely to pace the WTA for years to come, but Gauff's most impressive asset may be her unflappable poise under pressure.

Tennis, more so than perhaps any other professional sport, is guilty of anointing young stars as “the next big thing” far too early. But in Coco Gauff’s case, it’s really hard to argue with all the hype. Would it be better for her career if the media pumped the brakes? Of course, but so far she's made it impossible to do so.

She defeated her idol Venus Williams in her first-ever Wimbledon appearance, and in doing so became the youngest player to win a match at the All England Club since 1991. Three months later she captured her first WTA title in Linz, becoming the youngest WTA champion since 2004. Three months after that, she straight-setted two-time major winner Naomi Osaka at the 2020 Australian Open. But her on-court accomplishments pale in comparison to her already immeasurable off-court impact.

“I promise to always use my platform to help make the world a better place,” Gauff wrote on Twitter in the wake of the George Floyd murder. In June, she delivered an impassioned speech on racial injustice. "I think it's sad that I'm here protesting the same thing (my grandmother) did 50 years ago," Gauff said to peaceful protesters at Delray Beach City Hall.

This, in addition to: New Balance having rolled out an ad campaign, “Call Me Coco,” and designed a dress for her to wear at the US Open...Teen Vogue featuring her on its cover...Michelle Obama handing her a signed copy of her book Becoming...even Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles-Lawson, professing herself a Coco fan on Instagram.

In 16 short years, Gauff has experienced more than most athletes do in a lifetime, yet somehow she remains unfazed. On the court, she might be the most hyped-up teenage athlete since LeBron James. Off the court, she has no comparison. 

Eighteen-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert, someone who knows a thing or two about the teenage spotlight, said it best: “I believe we have a future leader, role model, and activist in Coco Gauff. At the young age of 16, she is showing up in the fight against racial prejudice. She could champion human rights and still be a champion in tennis. I believe she can be an inspiration and do it all.”


Strengths

Gauff’s serve is her most formidable weapon. At 15 she clocked a 118 m.p.h. serve. Her motion is fluid and easy, and she creates more velocity than most boys her age. Here, Gauff aces Kenin with a 115 m.p.h flat strike out wide, by far the hardest serve to hit. 

Why are we showing Gauff double faulting? The fact she went for a huge second serve under so much pressure is telling. Gauff struggled with her serve in this match, committing five double faults in the first set, but still she went for it. 

In addition to her blistering serve, Gauff defeats opponents with her quickness and court coverage. She’s already one of the fastest players on tour. If her speed continues to improve, she will soon be the WTA’s quickest player. Look how quickly she recovers to the center of the court after retrieving Polona Hercog’s nasty slice. 

I couldn’t find any statistics to back this up, but when opponents drop shot Gauff, it seems to never work out. 

A mark of a great player is the ability to finish points at net. The best junior players typically have great overheads, because whether you like it or not, many points are finished at net. Check out Gauff's athleticism on this overhead smash against Naomi Osaka. 

Gauff uses her power wisely. She prefers to shrink the court with her consistency and exceptional movement, but when it’s time to unleash the backhand, she hits it as big as anyone on tour.

Already an accomplished doubles player with two doubles titles to her name, Gauff’s net play will only get better with more experience.


Concerns

There’s really nothing to say here. We’ll know more in a few years, because right now, more experience is the only thing Gauff needs. Her forehand is solid, her backhand is devastating, her serve is huge, she’s clutch under pressure, and she’s lightning quick. And yet, her most impressive asset may be her unflappable poise under pressure.


Comparable: Venus Williams & Novak Djokovic

It’s tough not to compare Gauff to a young Venus. Their imposing statures, powerful flowing serves and all-around athleticism make for a rather obvious comp.

But Serena’s coach, Patrick Mourotoglou, likens Gauff to Novak Djokovic, and it makes sense.

“She has the amazing court coverage, both side to side and up and back, and the acceleration,” Mourotoglou said. “They’re both consistent, but can also hit winners.”

Like Djokovic, Gauff could hit plenty more winners if she wanted to, but she’d rather force errors with her consistency and court speed. Either way, Gauff has all the qualities of a potential all-time great player.


The Class of 2020 is now on TENNIS.com and Baseline.

Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday, July 30: Coco Gauff | Thursday, July 30: Caty McNally | Thursday, July 30: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek | Friday, July 31: Felix Auger-Aliassime | Friday, July 31: Carlos Alcaraz | Saturday, August 1: Denis Shapovalov | Saturday, August 1: J.J. Wolf | Sunday, August 2: Bianca Andreescu | Sunday, August 2: Leylah Fernandez  | Sunday, August 2: Marketa Vondrousova, Miomir Kecmanovic