As a 15-year-old, Gauff still must play a restricted schedule, although the WTA Tour is considering making some adjustments to its rules without abolishing restrictions. The focus in the off-season, according to Corey Gauff, was on polishing Coco’s technique and footwork. He said she had grown an inch, to 5-foot-10.
“Her arms are a little longer, so we had to make some adjustments to her contact points,” Corey Gauff said. “She’s still growing, still developing. Everything will get better. Forehand, backhand, everything gets better with a little more maturity, and she gets that grown-woman strength. She doesn’t have that yet.”
A year ago Gauff was ranked No. 684, but after reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, reaching the third round at the U.S. Open and winning her first tour title (as a lucky loser) in Linz, Austria, she is up to No. 67 and should break into the top 60 after winning matches in Melbourne against Venus Williams and Sorana Cirstea.
Both were genuine struggles, and on an up-and-down day, Gauff had to scrap and improvise on the fly to fight back and defeat Cirstea 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.
She will need to be much more consistent to pose a genuine threat to Osaka, but there can be no doubt at this early stage about Gauff’s competitive spirit.
“She’s just impressive all around, from her personality to the way she plays,” said Serena Williams, who practiced (and danced) with her in a preseason training camp in Florida. “I was nowhere near her level at 15 either on the court or off the court, not even close. I know kids are growing up different nowadays, so I’m not sure. But I was nowhere near as, like, smart and eloquent as she is. It’s nice to see.”
In the unlikely event both she and Gauff win on Friday and continue to advance, they would play in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
That, unlike so much else in Melbourne so far, would be an entirely new experience for Gauff.
“I haven’t really thought about that, to be honest,” Gauff said. “I didn’t even know Serena was on my side of the draw. I don’t look at draws. I just know I play Naomi. I’m looking forward to that.”