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How Coco Gauff saved the women’s ASB Classic

From the moment Coco Gauff made her first public appearance at Jellicoe Park Tennis Club on December 29, to when she gave her trophy winning speech on Center Court on Sunday night, everything about the 18-year-old in New Zealand was a joy.

It wasn’t just off the court where she was so impressive, on it she was captivating. She lost just four games over her semifinal and final and over the five matches it was probably the most dominant performance by a player ever at the Classic.

This year’s women’s tournament was plagued by bad news, mainly about the rain and Emma Raducanu’s criticism of the state of the indoor courts.

But Gauff’s charm off the court and incredible tennis on it saved the tournament.

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“Honestly, it’s been a great week,” Gauff said.

“I got here on the 28th and all the way up to the tournament it felt like a vacation.

ASB Classic

Coco Gauff thanks young Jellicoe Park players for gift she wore at ASB Classic win.

“My family was here, I was super relaxed and it was weird to be training pretty hard in the mornings and in the afternoons and evenings being on vacation really.

“It was like I was living two different moments, but it’s something I’d like to do every year.

“Hopefully in Auckland, because I love Auckland, but wherever, I’ll bring my family for the first week.

“It’s tough the first half of the year, because you’re gone from being with your family all the time, to not being with them for two months.

“So it was nice to ease that out and I know they had a good time. I like to show them new places in the world.

LAWRENCE SMITH/Stuff

US tennis star, Coco Gauff, pays a visit to Jellicoe Park tennis club in South Auckland.

“I didn’t feel stressed at all this week and a lot of people mentioned that I didn’t look stressed and I really wasn’t.”

When Gauff made a visit to Jellicoe Park Tennis Club in South Auckland on December 29, she happily mixed with young players and helped promote the sport among Pacific Island communities.

It wasn’t a chore for her to do this and she is passionate about taking tennis to poorer communities.

“That’s the reason why we’re after players like Coco,” Classic tournament director Nicolas Lamperin said.

“We want them to help us do a bit of promotion around the tournament.

“But we don’t want to force them and that’s the feeling I’ve always had with Coco. “Everything was very natural, she was enjoying the tournament, whether it was spending time with the kids at Jellicoe Park or jumping off the Sky Tower.

“Also, all the posts she did on social media over the last 10 days. We never asked for anything, it was all of her own doing.

“On the court, she was really above the rest of the players this week, really dominating, playing her A-game.

“We couldn’t be happier with the way she behaved on and off the court.”

When Gauff last played in Auckland, she was just 15 years old, but was already the most talked about tennis player in the world, thanks to beating Venus Williams on her way to the round of 16 at Wimbledon.

She lost in three sets to Laura Siegemund in Auckland that year and was in tears in her post match press conference.

Despite still being so young, Gauff said she had matured since then and no longer has to juggle tennis and school.

“That time was definitely stressful, trying to get all the work done,” Gauff said.

“When I was in high school, I’d do loading and try to do as much as I could before the slams, because I wanted to peak at the slams, but it kind of got me tired at these tournaments.

“So it definitely is freeing not having to worry about that and those deadlines. I still want to take college classes, but it’s not a requirement to take all these classes at once, I can take one or two at a time, so it’s a lot more flexible than high school.

Coco Gauff said she and her family enjoyed their time in New Zealand.

Dave Rowland/Getty Images

Coco Gauff said she and her family enjoyed their time in New Zealand.

“It is something I want to do in the future, because I am a very big believer in exercising your mind, on and off the court.

“I didn’t want to stop my education at high school, I want to at least try, but if I don’t like it I’ll stop and try something else.”

Since Emma Raducanu won the US Open in 2021 she has signed up with a string of companies for endorsements and sponsorship deals and her management have had a ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ mentality.

But Gauff’s family have turned down a lot more offers than they accepted, as they’ve looked to protect her and get the right balance between being a tennis star and a teenager.

Superstar players are known for making big demands when they come to the Classic and running up extortionate hotel bills. But Lamperin said there was none of that from the Gauff family, who even went out to an Auckland Tuatara baseball game one night.

“They’ve been extremely easy,” he said.

“We agreed on a number of things that they wanted to have in the first place.

“We knew she was coming with her family, so we put everything in place and after that they didn’t ask for anything.

“They were very independent. They had a great time with their family, but her mother and brother had to fly back, because school was starting in the US.

“But she enjoyed her time in New Zealand and it was nice to see that, not only to spend time with her family, but also to perform on the court and have all the work she did in the preseason pay off.”

Gauff has stated she’s keen to come back to New Zealand in 2024 and that’s music to the ears of Lamperin

“It’s always very promising when you hear these kinds of things,” he said.

“I’m sure we’ll sit down with her team in the next few months, if not weeks.”

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