WASHINGTON (AP) — Coco Gauff grew a bit weary of hearing fans’ various theories about what was wrong with her forehand.
“I know a lot of people think I need to cut my nails to help me hit a forehand better,” she said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Bruh, I did try the short nails, and it did not make my forehand better.’”
Turns out all the 19-year-old from Florida needed to get back to winning — including a trophy at the hard-court DC Open on Sunday that signals her readiness to contend at the U.S. Open, which begins in three weeks — was a bit of advice from people who know what they’re talking about.
Gauff said in an interview with The Associated Press that she got that from two sources in Washington: Her new full-time coach, Pere Riba, and a temporary consultant, Brad Gilbert.
It was Riba, Gauff explained, who suggested altering her footwork to get into better position for forehands and not feeling the need to be right up on the baseline to take the ball early. And it was Gilbert, she said, who wanted Gauff to take more time between points.
“Tempo was one of the main things, and it’s a pretty basic piece of advice. Every tennis player, regardless of the level, is told how important time is,” Gauff said. “But I think just having someone reiterate that to you (was helpful). … After I lose maybe two or three points in a row, maybe take the full 25 seconds to reset, especially if I’m the one serving.”
An example of that came in the last game of her 6-2, 6-3 victory over two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Maria Sakkari in Sunday’s final. Gauff dropped two consecutive points to go from 30-love to 30-all.
Instead of rushing to resume, Gauff paused for a moment.
“I took time to think about the serve that I wanted to hit,” she said. “I realized in the practices that I do perform better when I take time in between points.”
For all of those sorts of things to truly work, of course, Gauff needed to listen to what Riba and Gilbert were saying and implement their ideas.
She clearly did. Just ask her opponents in Washington, where she claimed all eight sets she played and ceded a grand total of only 19 games despite facing a trio of players ranked in the Top 20: Sakkari, defending champion Liudmila Samsonova and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Belinda Bencic.
And as talented, speedy and smart as Gauff is, it’s her willingness to adapt and try to improve that make her someone to watch in New York — and beyond, of course.
“When you say something to her, she analyzes it and she puts in the work. She is willing to make changes. That gives me a lot of confidence,” said Riba, who first began getting to know Gauff in June during the tournament in Eastbourne, England, right before her first-round exit at Wimbledon. “I see things moving in a really positive way after seeing her make some changes just in these few weeks.”
Gauff’s backhand is still as dangerous as it gets on tour. Her serve, too. Her cover-the-entire-court defense keeps her in every point. Her ability to think her way through a contest is also a plus.
“She can really read matches well,” Riba said, “even though she’s only 19.”
Now if that forehand — “It’s not a secret; everybody is trying to play the forehand,” Gauff said — continues to progress from liability to asset, look out.
Sakkari said she can see that stroke has gotten better from where it was the previous five times she faced Gauff.
And Sakkari figures that a player who became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history and made it all the way to the fourth round there in 2019 … and who eliminated reigning champion Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open in 2020 … and who reached reached the French Open final in 2022 … is bound for more success.
“She’s a top player. There was all this hype for a reason,” said Sakkari, who has been in the Top 10 every week since September 2021, the second-longest active streak. “She wasn’t just a one-off thing (who) was just good when she was 15.”