Cori Gauff 'feeling blessed' to be making Wimbledon history at age of 15

The teenager faces Venus Williams in the first round after becoming youngest player to come through qualifying at SW19

Cori Gauff makes her debut in the first round of a grand slam tournament at Wimbledon on Monday. Getty
Cori Gauff makes her debut in the first round of a grand slam tournament at Wimbledon on Monday. Getty

She’s 15 and just became the youngest ever in the Open Era to make the Wimbledon main draw through qualifying.

American teen Cori Gauff enjoyed a smooth qualifying week on the lawns of Roehampton, where she didn’t drop a set through three matches.

When she takes on her idol Venus Williams in the first round on Monday at the All England Club, Gauff will be the youngest to feature in the women’s singles main draw since Laura Robson in 2009.

Gauff found out she received a wildcard for Wimbledon qualifying just five days before her opening round. She then hopped on a plane from Florida to the UK just in time.

She looked cool and collected throughout the week in London, revealing her mind was wandering to “songs and the new Spiderman movie” between points during her first-round win over world No 94 Aliona Bolsova.

“I was thinking about ‘Icon’ by Jaden. The new ‘Old Town Road’. I should have an on-court playlist, not a pre-match playlist,” she jokes. The night before her final round of qualies, she took a science test remotely at 11pm, and passed it.

She is represented by Roger Federer’s agency, Team8, and was accompanied by his agent, and company co-founder, Tony Godsick, along with two more agents, at Roehampton on Thursday.

Already attracting big-money sponsorship deals – like Federer, she is sponsored by Barilla – Gauff is understandably seen as a future superstar of the game.

The Delray Beach resident sat down with a small group of reporters at Roehampton earlier this week to discuss her rise, her interests, her connection with Federer and Serena Williams being her idol.

How did your science test go?

"I’ll find out today what my grade it, but I’m pretty sure I got a ‘B’. So that’s good enough."

You’re the youngest ever Wimbledon qualifier in the Open Era, how does that feel?

"It feels great, I didn’t know that. The more you know I guess."

You didn’t look nervous at all in your last round of qualifying, how did you manage that?

"I knew I was the underdog, I was just really enjoying it. Last week I didn’t even know I was playing this and now I’m in the main draw, so I just really enjoyed it and just felt happy to be out there."

What were your expectations coming into qualifying?

"I didn’t really have time to set any expectations. Obviously every match I play I think I can win, but I wasn’t thinking about the next two matches in the first round, I was just thinking about that match and so on."

Almost every time you step on a court you make history or set a record in some way, are you aware of that, and how do you feel about it?

"I don’t know about any of the records I break until after, until somebody tells me. I just feel really blessed that I’m able to. I’m thankful that my parents never put any limitations on my goals, because sometimes parents can do that. My parents always told me to shoot as high as I wanted to. And I’m just happy that, not only did they accept my goals, they really sacrificed everything to make sure I get there. Especially my brothers, not being there with them right now, but I know at home they’re probably screaming, especially Cody because he gets really nervous during the matches."

What’s the earliest Wimbledon you can remember?

"I would say I think 2011, 2010, somewhere around there."

Any particular matches that stood out to you?

"One of the matches was when Genie [Bouchard] got to the final [in 2014], because she was a teenager then I think. That wasn’t the first one, but I remember I was thinking, ‘I want to do that one day’. It was a pretty remarkable run for her. And obviously I remember watching Serena for as long as I can remember. I think I’ve seen Serena so many times before I even knew how to make memories."

Is Serena Williams a big inspiration for you?

"Yes definitely. She’s the reason why I wanted to play tennis and the reason why my dad decided to get me a racquet."

Are you hoping to get a big-name player in the Wimbledon first round, or an easier draw?

"Honestly I don’t care who I get. I’m just happy to be there. I would love to share the court with Serena. I remember at Miami Open I was more disappointed that I lost the round before I got to play Venus than that I lost in general, because I really wanted to play her. But if I play either one of them that would be a dream come true.

You don't seem daunted or fazed by the media attention you’re getting, how does this feel to you, and do you enjoy that part of your job?

"I don’t really get nervous, because it’s just a conversation for me. I’ve been doing interviews for a long time, I think my first big one was US Open juniors, I’m kind of used to it. It doesn’t bother me."

As part of Team8, does Roger Federer give you any advice or anything like that?

"I remember I lost first round Australian Open juniors, and we talked after, and he just told me to keep going, to keep working hard, and he shared some of his stories back when he was a junior. And then the next tournament I played was French Open and I ended up winning it, maybe that had something to do with it but I mean, how could you not listen to the greatest of all time?

You’re obviously still studying, does school stress you out?

"A little, not so much that it’s hard, because for me, learning comes to me easier than some people, but just trying to complete the assignments. I’m kind of a perfectionist so I don’t like to turn in something that is bad.

You’ve posted about Juneteenth, can you talk about your interest in that part of history?

"Juneteenth is when all the remaining slaves were first freed. I think it’s just important for us, African Americans, to celebrate it because we celebrate Independence Day, July 4th, and not many celebrate. And I just feel like it’s really important because not everybody was freed. A lot of people did not know about it, I was getting DMs asking me questions about it and I was really surprised. I kind of try to use my platform to spread, especially during Black History month, I think I was posting like one random fact that you don’t learn at school a day. Because there’s so many things that I didn’t know, and if it wasn’t for the internet and social media – I’m just happy social media definitely made me learn a lot more about my history."

What did you learn this week about yourself?

"I learned that I can do anything I put my mind to and that when I’m calm and positive I’m most likely going to get the result that I want. And when I saw result, I don’t mean win or lose it’s just the result in how I play. Because you can’t win them all, nobody has a perfect record, but I think from now on I’ve been just trying to stay calm. Because that’s the biggest jump I believe from beginning of this year to this point now, was my mental game, not so much playing."

Do you think it’s possible to treat your first round at Wimbledon as just another tennis match?

"Yes. I treated here [qualifying at Roehampton] just as a tennis match. Thankfully juniors I’m familiar with the grounds here, I’m undefeated on these courts. But Wimbledon I know how the courts play a little bit, they might play a bit different because obviously the juniors start in the second week, the courts are going to be brand new when I go in this time. So I’m just curious to see how different it will be, but it won’t be too bad."

You said you’re calmer now, what were you like before?

"I feel like I put so much pressure on myself, because I always wanted to do better. I still want to do that but now I’m just kind of realising that – like my dad sat me down and said ‘You’re 15, you have so many years to go, when you’re playing now, these matches might be some tale that you tell when you’re older’. So he just told me to enjoy it. I’ve always kind of enjoyed it but I feel like I put way too much pressure on myself, like, ‘I have to win this, I have to win this’. But now I’m just like, he told me, ‘You can’t control the result of the match, the only thing you can control is how you play’. So I try to just control what I can, control the controllable.

With age restriction, you can only play five more tournaments after Wimbledon. Do you find that frustrating or do you see the benefit in age restrictions?

"I understand the tournament limit, the only I just think is kind of frustrating is the wildcards, because we only get three per year, qualies or main. Once you’re 18, you get three qualies, three main, so you get six total. So that’s the only thing that’s frustrating. Because you can only play so many tournaments, and it’s kind of tough to get into the tournaments when you can’t play a lot to build your ranking up, so it kind of puts a bit more pressure when you’re playing, like I need to get points so I can get in this tournament, try not to use a wildcard, that’s the only thing that makes it tricky."

Do you feel as young as people say you are?

"No, I don’t feel young at all, because I’m the oldest too, I have two younger brothers, so I don’t feel young, and I’m taller than a lot of people. I wouldn’t say I feel like an adult, but I would say I feel like I’m 18, but I can’t drive though."

Published: June 30, 2019 04:07 PM

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