Veteran coach and analyst Brad Gilbert quickly noticed two things first hand, after accepting an offer in late July to work with new US Open champion Coco Gauff.
Not only was she eager to work hard and learn, she was also mature well beyond her 19 years, highly articulate and empathetic.
He was so impressed that he even told an associate that he expected her to win at Flushing Meadows after her early Wimbledon exit, circling in September 9 on the calendar as the day it would all come to fruition.
‘She has a great ability to communicate for a young person,’ pointed out Gilbert, finally emerging from the celebrations which took place on Arthur Ashe Stadium following Gauff’s victory over new world No 1 Aryna Sabalenka. Her acceptance speech had been another example of how clearly she expresses herself.
‘Coco speaks incredibly well,’ added Gilbert. ‘Most importantly she is very humble and down to earth and she understands what she is doing. Her poise is incredible. She works hard and wants to get better, that’s the only thing that matters.
Coco Gauff won the US Open to upset new world No.1 Aryna Sabalenka in the final
Brad Gilbert was so impressed with Gauff that he predicted her to win the US Open
Her coach has challenged her to make it to the very top of tennis
‘Look at Novak Djokovic at 36, he only wants to get better, and when you constantly challenge yourself good things happen.
‘Four days after I started with her, I called Mary Joe (Fernandez, former American player) and told her that Coco was going to win the Open, and she replies: “That’s too soon”. I said I have a really good feeling, I circled the number nine while at our hotel in Washington DC, which was the date of this final, that we would be here.’
There are faint echoes of what happened with another teenage Open winner of recent vintage, Emma Raducanu, who teamed up with Andrew Richardson in the summer of 2021. The former British player could never have been so confident, but by mid-September his player had enjoyed an extraordinary triumph at Flushing Meadows.
This time the greater experience already acquired by Gauff means that she is unlikely to repeat the mistake of immediately getting rid of her coach.
American legend Chris Evert was among those purring over the 19-year-old Floridian’s New York win. She believes that it will be very much in the American’s favour that she has been a gradual developer, having been playing at the highest level since the age of 15.
‘I am glad Coco did not win as a younger teenager because it can be a bad thing for players. There are examples of that, look at Emma Raducanu,’ Evert told ESPN. ‘ It puts a lot of pressure on the player because they are not emotionally developed yet and they cannot handle it. Coco is now ready to win.’
As Evert observed: ‘She didn’t have her A-plus game and she won her match. It is her first Major and in her own country which makes it even more special.
American legend Chris Evert was among those purring over the 19-year-old’s win
‘She is an extraordinary tennis player and an even more extraordinary human being. We have seen that at a young age. She has spoken out on important issues, she has a social conscience. I think her parents have done a great job.
‘They have given her space at 19 years old to get Brad Gilbert in and make her own decisions. That wasn’t easy for Candi and Corey.’
Gilbert — at 62 brought in to coach alongside Spaniard Pere Riba — is known as a master tactician, but has previously worked mainly in the men’s game alongside having a media career.
He wrote a seminal manual on tennis strategy entitled Winning Ugly, a self-deprecating look at how he once reached No 4 in the world despite his limited ability.
His latest client showed she had learned some lessons from that. She needed to battle her way through the first two error-strewn sets in Saturday’s final, before tightening up her whole game in the decider.
‘It has been an amazing 42 days and we are just getting started,’ said Gilbert. ‘The thing she figured out which was most important was learning how to win when she was average, she had never done that before. She learned how to problem solve and figured out a way. Sometimes that is how you become a great player.
Evert described her as ‘an extraordinary tennis player and human being’
‘For me the most important thing was her understanding her strengths and helping her understand her opponents’ weaknesses. And navigate her game better — we moved her back a little bit on the return. I had got about 100 texts about her forehand saying “fix her forehand” and that was never part of the equation, didn’t need to be, she had a lot of other strengths.’
The fast-talking and slightly eccentric Gilbert’s acute knowledge of tactics helped him to revive the career of Andre Agassi, put in the formative building blocks for Andy Murray and coach Andy Roddick to his US Open title 20 years ago.
In recent years he has spent more time working on TV, and his experience of the women’s tour has been sparing.
‘Coco asked me “It’s been a long time for you?” I said: “you weren’t even born in 2003 (Roddick’s year), which is pretty crazy.” But I haven’t forgotten how to coach and there is still a big time need for players to get coaching.’
As a result of this win she will rise to world No 3 and has put herself in amongst the trio of Sabalenka, Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina, who had been shaping up as a dominant triumvirate.
With all respect to them, their geographic representation of Belarus, Poland and Kazakhstan have not been ideal for a sport which prides itself on having a wide international spread.
That America now has a Major champion again with the Williams sisters no longer contenders is a huge boost for the women’s game. That the player concerned is such a charismatic ambassador, with a game that has such solid building blocks already in place, is another considerable bonus.