Coco Gauff credits Roland-Garros for first WTA title

 - Danielle Rossingh

Coco Gauff defeated Roland-Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko to clinch her first WTA title.

Coco Gauff screaming at the 2019 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

After taking the tennis world by storm with stunning performances at Wimbledon and the US Open this summer, Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff now has a tournament title to boot.

The American teenager won her first WTA title in Linz, Austria by beating former Roland-Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 on Sunday. The 15-year-old American is the youngest winner of a WTA event since Czech Nicole Vaidisova in 2004. 

Winning Roland-Garros juniors helped Coco

Gauff’s victory was all the more incredible because she actually lost in qualifying, only to be given a lucky loser spot in the main draw.

And after beating world No. 8 Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands on her way to her first final and then Ostapenko for the title, Gauff said winning the junior event at Roland-Garros last year helped get her over the line.

“It definitely gave me a lot of experience playing in the finals of such a big tournament,” Gauff told in a phone interview from Linz.

One of the biggest talents of her generation, Gauff was a losing finalist to fellow American Amanda Anisomova in the 2017 US Open girls’ final when she was just 13 years old. A year later, the then 14-year-old Gauff won the Roland-Garros girls’ championship

Coco Gauff winning the Roland-Garros juniors 2018 title©Cédric Lecocq/FFT

"I kind of was relating to Roland-Garros"

Trying to calm her nerves before the biggest match of her career against Ostapenko, Gauff said she took herself back to the Roland-Garros girls’ final.

Playing her friend Catherine McNally on Court No. 1 at Roland-Garros, Gauff had lost the first set in 25 minutes and was down a break in the second before staging a comeback.

“My first junior final was the US Open and I was super-nervous for that and I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to,” Gauff said. “And then my next final was Roland-Garros, and that gave me a boost of confidence. And I kind of, last night, was relating to Roland-Garros (for) today.”

Although Gauff played with a maturity well beyond her years in Linz, panic set in at the end of the final set, when Ostapenko saved two match points on her serve as she trailed 5-0. After the Latvian held, Gauff played a nervous game to be broken to love. 

©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Peptalk from Corey to Cori

A peptalk during the changeover from her father and coach, Corey Gauff, made all the difference.

“You are not going to sprint to the finish line, you are going to walk to the finish line,” he said calmly. “Take your mind to another place,” he added, while his daughter asked him: “What side do I need to hit to? Tell me something.”

With Ostapenko once again serving to stay in the final, Gauff took the first point with a strong return. A backhand in the net by Ostapenko handed the American a third match point, which she took after an anxious wait as she challenged an Ostapenko groundstroke which the replay showed had landed just over the baseline.

“He was just trying to remind me that it was important not to rush out the points, not to push the ball and hope she makes the error,” said Gauff, who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon and the third round of the US Open in her first year on the WTA Tour.

Back to (online) school

Gauff put her hands on her head in disbelief after winning, before throwing her arms in the air to celebrate. After shaking hands with her opponent, she hugged her parents, who had flown in from Florida the day before.

“You have a bright future, and I am really glad to share the court with you,” Ostapenko told Gauff at the trophy ceremony, where the American was given a bottle of red wine, a traditional Austrian Dirndl costume as well as a cheque for $43,000.

At 15, Gauff is limited in the number of events she can play under WTA rules, designed to protect young players from burnout.

This week’s event in Luxembourg will be her last of the season, before life returns back to normal.

“I do online school, so I take it with me on the road,” said Gauff, whose ranking has surged to No. 71, from No. 685 at the start of the year. “Obviously during my tournaments, I still submit work, but not as much as I do when I’m not at a tournament. So definitely after Luxembourg I’ll have a lot of time to focus on school in the off-season.”