NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 27: Cori Gauff of the United States looks on against Anastasia Potapova of Russia during their Women's Singles first round match on day two of the 2019 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 27, 2019 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)


It can be a tricky thing when you step into the global spotlight the way Coco Gauff did at the All England Club in 2019, defeating Venus Williams, a player she grew up idolizing, a player she modeled her own game after, in the opening round.

Only 15, Gauff would go on to reach Wimbledon’s Round of 16, the youngest player to do so since Hall of Famer Martina Hingis in 1996, eight years before Gauff was even born. Suddenly, you’re saddled with expectations, both from others and from yourself. There are agents and endorsement deals, the media and the life-out-of-a-suitcase demands of non-stop travel. Not only do you have to put in the hours honing your serve and your ground game, you’ve got to develop that intangible of intangibles: patience.

“You want results to happen fast, but I’m still developing my game and figuring out how I want to play on the court, how I want to construct my points. It’s definitely a learning process,” said Gauff, who will make her Charleston Open debut this week, her first WTA event on green clay. “I feel like every tournament, even though some tournaments I don’t do as well as others, I’m getting better and closer to figuring out my game.”

In the short term, it may be her own expectations that prove the most difficult to manage. Those outside voices? With solid support from her parents, Corey and Candi, and her advisor/coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, she’s got them under control.

“A lot of people have opinions on you, on how they think you should play,” said Gauff, now 17. “But I think it’s important that you focus on your journey, your path. You’re going to have a different path than other players. That’s what I’ve been working on lately, just focusing on my journey and my path.”

Gauff is off to a strong start in 2021. She broke through to her first WTA 500 semi in Adelaide and first WTA 1000 quarterfinal in Dubai, and arrives to Charleston inside the Top 40. Though she had her first big success on the grass courts of Wimbledon, she’s also at home on clay. She was raised on the green clay of South Florida, after all, and captured the Roland Garros girls’ singles title in 2018. This may be her first foray at the Charleston Open, but she’s been schooled on the nuances of the surface.

“Green clay is a lot more unpredictable. Each court is different than the other. That’s just the way green clay is — not just in Charleston, but all over the world,” Gauff explained. “It’s a lot dustier and a little bit more slippery, but this is the kind of clay I grew up on in Florida. That’s all we had — green clay and hard courts. I played on both. I guess I’m more familiar with it. It’s nice transitioning into the red clay, but it’s good to play on green clay a little bit before. I think this will help me for the whole European swing.”

Gauff landed in the same quarter of the Charleston draw as Sofia Kenin, Elise Mertens, Ons Jabeur and Tsvetana Pironkova, whom she’ll face in the opening round. At 33, Pironkova, a quarterfinalist at the US Open last year, is nearly twice Gauff’s age, with a whole lot more experience to call upon. Just don’t expect the Bulgarian’s young challenger to be overwhelmed by the moment. Yes, Coco Gauff is only 17, but she’s fast growing accustomed to life in the spotlight, and all the demands that go with it.