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Coco Gauff on a path to greatness — but will always remember Auckland

Author
Michael Burgess,
Publish Date
Mon, 8 Jan 2024, 9:32am
Coco Gauff, of the US, celebrates winning the singles final match against Ukraine's Elina Svitolina during the 2024 Women's ASB Classic. Photo / Getty Images
Coco Gauff, of the US, celebrates winning the singles final match against Ukraine's Elina Svitolina during the 2024 Women's ASB Classic. Photo / Getty Images

Coco Gauff on a path to greatness — but will always remember Auckland

Author
Michael Burgess,
Publish Date
Mon, 8 Jan 2024, 9:32am

Coco Gauff is on a path to greatness — but she will always remember Auckland. 

In a decade or so from now, who knows where she will be, though her trajectory suggests she could be among the biggest names, such is her progression. 

The world No 3 has already played on the grandest arenas in tennis, but the 2024 ASB Classic title was a significant step in her career. 

The 19-year-old had to do it the hard way — coming back from a set down to beat second seed Elina Svitolina 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in an epic that stretched over two hours and 35 minutes. 

Even more importantly, Gauff managed to carry the mantle of defending champion and top seed all week. 

“[Defending a title] is important because throughout my career, hopefully, I can win a lot and there is going to be times where I have to defend,” she said. 

“Even though this is a [WTA] 250 level, I don’t take it lightly. These are stepping stones that I need to do to progress in my career. 

“I think that’s just with most players, you start with winning a 250, then a 500 then a 1000, then a slam. And then for this level, I needed to figure out the pressure of defending a title and then obviously, coming up later this year, I’ll have to do that [in bigger tournaments].” 

Sunday was the seventh title of Gauff’s career and her fifth tournament win in the past 12 months. Perhaps most importantly, she managed to peak again so soon after her US Open title, which was a head-spinning moment for the young American. 

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” she said. “If you look in the past, like sometimes outside of Iga [Swiatek], I don’t think too many people won a title soon after [a grand slam]. It was something mentally that I felt like I had to overcome. Because when you do reach such a high, the only way to go is down.” 

Sitting in her Auckland hotel room on New Year’s Eve, Gauff wrote down a list of 2024 goals on her phone (“usually it’s in a journal but I forgot it in Florida”). One was “career high”, but didn’t specify being No 1 in the world. 

“I’ve never been one to write down ranking goals,” she said. 

“For me, my most important thing is winning slams and the ranking is going to come with that obviously. The slam that I really want to win is Roland Garros because I won juniors there and I was so close last time [in 2022]. All of them are targets but in a perfect world, I would love to win that one.” 

Gauff wasn’t completely happy with Sunday’s performance, feeling it was a notch down on previous levels during the week. Her serving was off — by her standards, with seven double faults — and she couldn’t cement early breaks in each of the first two sets. But that was a sign of her resilience, as she lifted when it counted against such a strong opponent. It was a completely different match to last year’s decider against a qualifier and the first time she dropped a set all week. 

“I’m really happy with the mental fight that I showed,” she said. “When you’re playing five matches, every match is not always going to be as easy as you wanted to. The biggest thing that I’ve learned from winning a slam is that you’re going to have to win at least one of those matches, not playing your best.” 

Despite carrying a long list of ailments (back, hips, toes), after more than eight hours on court this week the gutsy Svitolina brought out the best in Gauff, forcing her to dig deep. Gauff showed outstanding defensive skills, then brought the aggression when it was needed, especially in the latter stages of the second and third sets. 

There were no big celebrations planned on Sunday night, apart from dinner with mother and travelling coaches. 

“[Last year] I had a quarter of a glass of champagne,” Gauff said with a laugh. “I’m not a fan of it but I’m going to try to do a full glass here.” Svitolina was disappointed but immensely proud of her effort, after a week in which she also had memorable battles against Caroline Wozniacki and Emma Raducanu. 

“It was a good match and I’m happy the way I fought, the way I’ve been playing this tournament,” said Svitolina. ”I’m proud of the tournament and I’m just happy that it’s done now.” 

Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. A football aficionado, Burgess will never forget the noise that greeted Rory Fallon’s goal against Bahrain in Wellington in 2009. 

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