While most 19-year-olds are gearing up for their sophomore year at college during the last weeks of August, Coco Gauff is getting ready to play her fifth U.S. Open.
Gauff, currently the youngest women’s player ranked in the top 30, has been a star of American tennis ever since she burst onto the scene at Wimbledon in 2019, upsetting five-time champion Venus Williams in the opening round. Since, she’s reached no. 4 in the singles rankings, and no. 1 in doubles, and there seems to be no limit on this young phenom from Florida.
She had an up-and-down summer, after losing in the first round of Wimbledon to Sofia Kenin, and struggling with her forehand. But as she entered the North American hard court swing—a series of tournaments played in the U.S. and Canada on hard courts in July and August—she got her groove back.
Earlier this month, Gauff clinched her first WTA 500 title at the Mubadala Citi D.C. Open, and soon after, she triumphed in Cincinnati, winning her first WTA 1000 title at the Western & Southern Open. They are the two biggest singles victories of her career thus far, with some tennis journalists even declaring it the “Summer of Coco.”
Winning, she tells Town & Country over e-mail, “feels amazing.”
“Just a few weeks ago, I lost in the first round at Wimbledon, so to be able to turn that around, and feel confident going into the U.S. Open is key,” she continues. “My coach always says the only way is forward.”
The only way is forward, indeed. Her takeaways from this summer: “I can beat the best in the game, when I am confident, calm and patient throughout the match.” The tournament in D.C. was her first with a new coaching team—Pere Riba and Brad Gilbert—but all the credit lies with Gauff’s attitude, and her grit and determination on the court. As Gilbert told WTA Insider, “She’s incredibly hard-working, and probably her best quality is she’s extremely humble. Honestly, she’s a pleasure to be around. She’s got a heart of gold and wants to get better— that’s your goal as a tennis player.”
And she keeps getting better. After D.C., she made it to the quarterfinals in Montreal, and then won in Cincinnati. Her path to victory in Ohio also included beating world no. 1 Iga Świątek for the first time.
Still, her sights are set on the biggest American hard court tournament of them all: The U.S. Open. Practicing for the Grand Slam, Gauff says, ” I have been spending a lot of time on my footwork, trying to go bigger on certain shots and otherwise just stay as relaxed as possible. The U.S. swing is my favorite time of year. I love to build up to NY in Atlanta, D.C., and Canada. These tournaments feel like home.”
U.S. tournaments have had no shortage of American stars, and despite Serena Williams’s retirement last U.S. Open, the future of the sport is brighter than ever. “It’s been really, really exciting,” Jessica Pegula, the top-ranked American woman right now and Gauff’s doubles partner, told Town & Country last year about her American cohort. “There’s been such a deep crop for such a long time. American tennis is really strong, the depth is really good at every single level.” Gauff and Pegula are joined in the top ranks by Madison Keys, Danielle Collins, and Sloane Stephens, among others, and on the men’s side, Francis Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, Christopher Eubanks, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda, and more have been making waves. “American tennis has never been stronger,” Gauff says. “There are so many great younger player making moves up the rankings and it seems like everyone is supporting each other.”
For the other American players, there’s nothing like competing in their home Grand Slam. The Open, Gauff says, “will forever be the place where I saw myself lifting the trophy in my dreams as a little girl from Delray.”
Born Delray Beach, Florida in 2004, Gauff grew up in Atlanta and was inspired to play tennis after watching Serena Williams compete at the Australian Open in 2009. Her parents, Candi and Corey Gauff, were both college athletes (Candi, track at Florida State; Corey, basketball at Georgia State) and encouraged their daughter to try a range of sports. Tennis stuck. She trained with Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, at the Mouratoglou Academy in France when she was just 10, and turned pro at age 14. Then came the historic Wimbledon run at age 15, and here we are in 2023, with 19-year-old Gauff a favorite to make a deep run at this year’s Open.
Preparing to play at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, she says, isn’t different from any other competition—if anything, she tries to relax more ahead of the Grand Slam, cognizant of all the attention that is about to be on her. “I maybe wind down a bit,” she says. “I’m not doing two-a-day workouts but otherwise everything is the same. I play cards with my team, go to team dinners and trying to catch some movies in the city.”
One thing that is consistent, no matter where she’s playing, is her pre-match routine: Pasta. “I always have a pre-match meal in the player’s lounge and that meal is always pasta,” Gauff says. “I like to add some protein and vegetables with a light sauce to give me balanced nutrition and functional fuel to perform on the court.” It’s fortuitous then that Barilla, an Italian-owned food company, signed Gauff in March 2019, and this summer, she’s launching a campaign with them called “Barilla Serving Love.” During the first week of the tournament, Barilla is giving away pasta meal kits. On a recent trip to Italy, she even visited Barilla’s global headquarters in Parma, “where they taught me how to make the perfect spaghetti alla carbonara,” she says.
Off-court, when not trying new recipes, Gauff can be found at the movies with her friends, or reading anime and comics. She’s also proficient on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter—as a Gen Z player, she’s deeply in tune with the internet. After winning in D.C., she posted photos of her victory celebration, writing “this barbie is the dc open champion” as “Barbie World” by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice from the Barbie movie soundtrack played in the background.
Her profile picture on TikTok isn’t even her, but a picture of Meliodas, a character in the Japanese fantasy manga series The Seven Deadly Sins. She’s a big superhero fan, too, particularly of Spider-Man. “I guess in a very figurative way, and Spider-Man himself is a teenager, does big things—and I’m a teenager who’s trying to do big things and I just feel I can relate to him a lot,” she told Her Way earlier this year.
“I am really a normal teenage girl,” she says, adding, “Life has not changed that much since I joined the tour at 15. I still live at home and love to spend time with my brothers when I’m home. I have a bit of an online shopping addiction like most teens lol.”
But Gauff is anything but average. She’s one who has her sights set on winning a Grand Slam, and on making tennis history. She got close last year, making it to the finals of the French Open, but it feels within her grasp this summer. “The dream is to always win a Grand Slam,” she says. “There are only four opportunities to do it every year. The stage is bigger, the fanbase is bigger—it is the pinnacle of tennis.”
And surely, come Monday, all eyes will be on Gauff.
Emily Burack (she/her) is the news writer for Town & Country, where she covers entertainment, culture, the royals, and a range of other subjects. Before joining T&C, she was the deputy managing editor at Hey Alma, a Jewish culture site. Follow her @emburack on Twitter and Instagram.