Coco Gauff celebrates winning a point in her match against Venus Williams at The Championships - Wimbledon 2019 on July 1, 2019 in London.
Teenage tennis sensation Coco Gauff has made no secret of the fact that she’d love to represent the United States at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The question was top of mind earlier this year when Gauff made another run in a Grand Slam, this time reaching the third round of the Australian Open. With the Tokyo Games just half-a-year away, Gauff, who turned 16 in March, said playing in an Olympics was one of her goals.
At the time, however, Gauff was sitting just outside an Olympic qualifying spot and had only a handful more opportunities to accumulate points.
Now, with the Olympics postponed until 2021, Gauff, who opened play in the US Open yesterday, finds herself in a much more advantageous situation, even if she isn’t going to celebrate the reason why.
“(The postponement) definitely increases my chances (of making the Olympic team) a lot,” she said via video conference prior to the Western & Southern Open in August. “The reasoning behind postponing, obviously I wouldn’t want a whole pandemic to help that, but it definitely increases my chances a lot. At the same time, considering the circumstances right now, health is more important so I’m not really trying to think about it too much because peoples’ lives are still at risk and I don’t think it would be fair for me to be like my chances are increasing because of a terrible situation.”
Last year at this time, Gauff was a 15-year-old newcomer on the tennis scene, and boy had she made a splashy entry. The former No. 1 junior player captured the attention of the world beyond just tennis aficionados when she beat Venus Williams in the first round of Wimbledon. It was her first major tournament and she got in as a qualifier, but she played like a seasoned pro in advancing all the way to the Round of 16 before losing to No. 7 seed Simona Halep of Romania, the eventual champion.
Gauff followed that up with a main draw spot at the US Open and made it to the third round before falling to top-ranked Naomi Osaka of Japan. Shortly thereafter Gauff secured her first WTA tour win at October’s Linz Open in Austria, making her the youngest WTA winner since Nicole Vaidisova also won at age 15 in 2004.
Gauff kicked off 2020 with a bang, too, beating Williams again in the first round and Osaka in the third round of the Australian Open before falling to eventual champion Sofia Kenin, also of the U.S., in three sets in the fourth round.
Asked about playing in the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo in a news conference in Australia, Gauff said it was “definitely the goal.”
“Hopefully I can get my ranking up and qualify,” she told reporters. “I’m pretty sure I only have maybe three tournaments before the French Open, so it’ll be difficult. I’m going to try as hard as possible. I definitely do want to play the Olympics. That would be pretty cool.”
Each country can qualify a maximum of four women to the Olympics in singles, and those spots are awarded based on WTA rankings. At that time, Gauff had the fifth-highest ranking among American women but was significantly behind fourth-ranked Madison Keys, a 2016 Olympian. Because of WTA age restrictions aimed at preventing burnout among young players, Gauff was going to be limited in the number of tournaments she could enter before the qualification cutoff in June following the French Open.
Nonetheless, things were still moving in the right direction when she was picked for the Fed Cup team alongside four-time Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams, Kenin, Alison Riske and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The U.S. team defeated Latvia in February in Everett, Washington, to advance to the 12-team final round, which was to be held in April in Budapest, Hungary.
Although Gauff did not play in Everett, she became the second-youngest American Fed Cup representative ever behind Jennifer Capriati.
Then, of course, COVID-19 spread around the world and both play and rankings were suspended beginning in March. Rankings are typically based on the previous 52 weeks, but the revised WTA ranks are now based on 22 months, from March 2019 to the end of 2020, following the ATP model.
With the sport now kicking back into gear, Gauff has an opportunity to make her move.
In her first competitions since the Australian Open, the Floridian reached the semifinals at the Top Seed Open in Kentucky in early August, then was eliminated in the round of 64 at the Western & Southern Open later in the month.
There’s still a long way to go before Tokyo, though, and Gauff entered the US Open ranked 50th in the world, trailing Kenin (4), Serena Williams (9), Keys (13), Riske (19), Amanda Anisimova (28), Sloane Stephens (37) and Jennifer Brady (40) among Americans.
Nonetheless, it’s no wonder why Gauff continues to inspire such intrigue. Still two years away from being able to vote in an election, she’s already made three runs in Grand Slam tournaments and knocked off some of the sport’s biggest names. And should she qualify for Tokyo, at 16 years, 4 months Gauff would become just the 11th youngest woman to make the Olympics in tennis, and the youngest American, according to the Olympedia database. The previous youngest American was Georgina Jones, who was 17 years, 10 months old at the 1900 Games in Paris.