Gauff's delicate sport-study balance pays dividends

The American phenom is not your average 18-year-old.

Coco Gauff, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

Few people are capable of playing the kind of tennis Coco Gauff can, the No.18 seed easing into her third Roland-Garros on Sunday with a 7-5, 6-0 win over Canada’s Rebecca Marino.

Fewer still are capable of doing what she’s done over the past few months, combining her tennis with schoolwork, a task she completed with graduation from high school, which she celebrated with some photos last week in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Balancing those two things and the pressure from people who expect her to already be competing for Grand Slam titles has been even more difficult but like she has done throughout her young career, she seems to have achieved it effortlessly.

Supportive teachers

Like a duck below water, though, it has not always been as easy as she makes it look.

“Balancing schooling and tennis it was honestly very difficult, just because I feel like tennis or at least in Grand Slams in particular…for me personally I get more mentally exhausted than physically,” she explained. “Physically I can play 20 more matches and mentally I'm barely grinding through this.

“So I think adding school to that was definitely a toll and I was so thankful that the teachers that I did have were very understanding of when I didn't submit work for a couple weeks and they never really bothered me, they knew I was playing.

“I'm very thankful for them because that could have been a lot more stressful if they weren't as understanding, which they probably could have been more because there was a lot of weeks I went without submitting work, but I got it done.”

Gauff excelled in history, especially World War 1 and World War 2 but says she’s delighted she doesn’t have to do any more maths.

“I hated that,” she said. “I'm so glad it's over. I know that it's something that you need every day. My dad is a math guy. He's like, You need to be good at math, and I'm like, Dad, listen, that's just something that I'm not going to do. There's a calculator for a reason and there's all these apps for a reason. You can, if you want to figure it out on paper, you do it.”

'Not freaking out'

On the court, Gauff’s progress has been steady, rather than spectacular in 2022, but it’s noticeable that she’s largely lost only to top-players.

Simona Halep (twice), Maria Sakkari (twice), world No.1 Iga Swiatek and former top-10 player Daria Kasatkina are the only ones to get the better of her since Dubai in February.

Seeded 18, she’ll take on Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium next and is quietly confident that she can have another good run, having made the quarter-finals last year and having won the junior title in 2018.

Gauff’s Achilles heel against Marino was her serve, with 10 double faults making her life more difficult than it might otherwise have been.

“I was definitely over-thinking a little bit on the serve and then I think in the second set I was just trusting my instincts more,” she said.

“The last match on that court I think that I played I lost, and it was because I hit like a lot of double faults, so I was having little flashbacks of that.

“I think even last year that match could have been a completely different situation, even in that first set,” she said. “I mean it's one of those matches that one of my strengths is my serve and sometimes when your strength isn't working you tend to freak out and I think today I did a good job of not freaking out.”