It was not the start to her Wimbledon that she envisioned.
But it might have been the spark her career needed.
Coco Gauff entered the 2023 Wimbledon Championships as the seventh-seeded player in the women’s draw. Her calendar year had begun with a win in the ASB Classic ahead of the Australian Open, where she advanced to the Round of 16 before losing to Jelena Ostapenko. Other deep runs followed, including advancing to the semifinals in Dubai before losing to Iga Swiatek, who she also lost to in the quarterfinals at the French Open.
But at Wimbledon, there would be no deep run. She lost to a qualifier, Sonya Kenin, in the opening round, her earliest exit at a Grand Slam event since the 2022 Australian Open.
“Defeat makes me want to work even harder,” said Gauff after the shocking upset. “Right now I feel very frustrated and disappointed. I feel like I have been working hard, but clearly it’s not enough.”
What has happened since then certainly has been enough.
After her early exit in London, Gauff has secured her first WTA 500 title — the Washington Open — followed by her first WTA 1000 title in Cincinnati. Her run in Cincinnati saw her overcome Swiatek in the semifinals, her first time beating Swiatek in eight tries. Gauff is now through to the semifinals at the U.S. Open, her deepest run ever in the tournament, and enters her upcoming match against tenth-seeded Karolina Muchova with a 16-1 record on hard surfaces this season.
And she is catching the eye of the rest of the tennis world in the process.
“Coco is on the rise,” said Novak Djokovic earlier this week. “She’s still young, but now [with] Brad Gilbert on her side with the great experience of coaching some of the greats, I think things are coming together for her. She played really good tennis in Cincinnati and also she’s been playing well here. … I’m sure that she has very high hopes for the US Open, and she should.”
The mention of Gilbert points to the decision to bring the player-turned-coach on as a consultant following that early exit from Wimbledon. That move was part of her turnaround this season, but her incredible summer has also been shaped by reshaping parts of her game, as well as Gauff learning how to dig deep when things get tough on the court.
For example, in her opening round match against another qualifier Laura Siegemund Gauff dropped the first set. Was another first-round exit on the horizon?
Absolutely not, as Gauff stormed back to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. She would need to battle back in the third round as well after dropping the first set to Elise Mertens, before winning 3-6, 6-3, 6-0.
“I’m figuring out these situations, making it easier and easier as the matches go,” Gauff said following her win over Mertens. “I mean, when I’m playing not my best, [I’m] still able to figure out how to win these matches, it’s good.
“When you lose the first set, you have to show that you have to leave that energy in the first set,” added Gauff. “The three setters show that I’m not going down without a fight.”
She would need that fight again against Caroline Wozniacki in the Round of 16. After taking the first set, Gauff could feel the second set — and perhaps the match — slipping away. Amid constant chatter from Gilbert and coach Pere Riba, Gauff implored the duo to “stop talking.” The teenager needed to figure things out on the court.
Which she did. Despite losing the second set, Gauff came through in the third to take the match, after which she addressed that moment in the second set.
“Sometimes I do tell them to chill out a little bit because I like to think, and figure out matches my own way,” Gauff explained later. “Sometimes it’s a stress reaction.”
As for what else has improved on the court, Gilbert nods towards her athleticism, which they are relying on more and more each week. “She moves better than anybody on the WTA Tour, and I think that’s more of an asset that she can use,” said the former player when describing her game.
“I trust the work that I’ve done in practice,” Gauff said earlier in the tournament. “I hope that I can continue to translate that into matches. I think just trusting myself … seeing a different perspective can sometimes just change things completely. I think I have a new perspective, and I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Another aspect of her run at the U.S. Open is the energy she brings to the court, energy she wills the crowds to match. Following her comeback against Mertens, Gauff paid tribute to the crowd in Queens. “The energy today definitely helped me. I felt you guys,” said Gauff. “I played every point my hardest.”
That continued through her quarterfinals match against Ostapenko, as Gauff willed the crowd to make even more noise following the victory:
“There’s a saying in basketball that defense wins games. In tennis, that’s not always the case, but today it was definitely the case,” Gauff said following the win. “It’s important to have both ends of the court. The defense has always been there, but I’ve been improving my offense, and I think it’s showing and translating well on the court.”
Now Gauff is through to the semifinals, the first American teenager to accomplish that feat since one of her idols, Serena Williams, advanced to the semis in the 2001 U.S. Open. Standing in her way is Muchova, whom Gauff bested back in Final back in Cincinnati.
With the way her summer is going, and with how she has rounded out her game these past few months, it looks like this hot streak is going to continue.