Coco Gauff is poised to build on last year’s breakout season after the American teenager defended her crown at an Australian Open tune-up event in Auckland last weekend.
After claiming her first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open last September, Gauff opted to work on her game on the practice courts in a hot and humid Florida rather than going on vacation to recharge her body and mind.
It paid dividends as she cruised through her first four matches in New Zealand without dropping a set before being forced to dig deep against dangerous veteran Elina Svitolina in the final.
Top-seeded Gauff dropped the first set tiebreak but raised her level over the next two to repeat as champion and hoist her seventh singles trophy.
“I don’t know if I was expecting this result, but I’m really happy with how I managed to play today,” Gauff said after the match.
“I think today level-wise was definitely not my best match or best level this week, but sometimes when you win when you’re not playing your best, it makes you feel more satisfied.”
Gauff’s serve has steadily improved since she burst onto the scene at Wimbledon in 2019 and she has transformed her forehand, once a vulnerability opponents sought to exploit, into a weapon.
She has also developed a more aggressive game, playing first-strike tennis while maintaining the exceptional all-court speed that makes her an elite defender.
“It’s the balance of both (offense and defense),” her coach Brad Gilbert told WTAtennis.com.
“Obviously, you want to win with more offense, it’s not as taxing,” said Gilbert, who coached Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray.
“You have to be willing to do both. Maybe the greatest I’ve seen at both is (Novak) Djokovic. His ability to lock down on the court – he can at any moment. But then he also has this unbelievable ball-control offense,” he said.
“With Coco, that’s what we’re working toward. Keep improving, trying to get better.”
Gauff, who turns 20 in March, will be aiming to win back-to-back majors by improving on her fourth-round showing at last year’s Australian Open.
Against a formidable field at Melbourne Park, Gauff will need to lean on her ability to problem-solve on the fly, which she worked to perfection when she rallied from a set down to defeat hard-hitting Aryna Sabalenka in the U.S. Open final.
Gilbert said her competitiveness is burning brighter than ever. “She sets a high standard, and she’s driven to get better,” Gilbert said.
“She’s never satisfied. She wants to achieve things — that’s all she’s thinking about.” — Reuters.