‘Coco Gauff was already a great player, we have to be clear about that’

Shahida Jacobs
US Open champion Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff (USA) with the US Open trophy

Coco Gauff has been described as a “wonderful young lady” by well-known coach Darren Cahill, who feels that she was always destined for stardom and Brad Gilbert gave her self-belief to go fulfil her dreams.

American youngster Gauff made her breakthrough as a 15-year-old in 2019 when she became the youngest player to qualify for the main draw at Wimbledon.

Her rise was steady as later that year she won her maiden WTA Tour singles title and last year she reached her maiden Grand Slam final as she finished runner-up to Iga Swiatek at Roland Garros. Her run in Paris also helped her to break into the top 10 of the WTA Rankings and she was steady, if unspectacular, for the months that followed.

On the back of a first-round exit from Wimbledon, Gauff made changes to her coaching team as veteran renowned coach Gilbert – who mentored former world No 1s Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick – joined Pere Riba in the set-up.

It proved to be a masterstroke as the 19-year-old first went on to win the Citi DC Open and the Cincinnati Open – her first WTA 1000 title – before she won her maiden Grand Slam at the US Open, defeating Aryna Sabalenka in the final.

And while a lot of people feel Gilbert has proven to be the difference, Cahill says the foundations were laid before he joined.

“She was already a great player, we have to be clear about that, she had already made the final of the French Open, she had cemented herself in the top 10 for 18 months, she was already a great player,” he said on the Advantage Connors podcast.

“But at that level if you can come in and make a couple of changes that makes a one per cent or a two per cent difference in a player, it means a lot and that is where good coaching comes in.

“Brad was able to come in with Pere and really fill Coco with a sense of belief. I thought she did a really good job of relying on her speed and her consistency and making the players on the other side of the court panic a little bit and I thought we saw that in the final.”

Cahill also praised Gauff’s parents as they did the hard work in her formative years, but feels moving on proved the right decision and Gilbert and Pere have taken her to the next level.

The Australian went into detail to explain why the Gauff, Gilbert, Riba triangle has been a success.

“I am biased in this because Brad is one of my best friends and I believe he is one of the greatest coaches of all time,” he said.

“A lot of credit has to go to Pere Riba – the other coach that has been with her since the start of Wimbledon, he was with her at the same time [as Gilbert].

“To make a duel coaching thing work there has to be a great culture and great environment within the team. Every single person I speak to in regard to Coco and the person she is – not just inside the lines, but outside the lines – every single person says she is just a wonderful young lady.

“I have had the pleasure and honour to speak to her a few of times [and] she is a delight to speak to, she is like a sponge – she taking in information about her game – but she is also headstrong, which you need and all the champions have that because they see themselves as certain types of players and she knows what she is capable of.

“It has taken maybe Brad to come in and in about six weeks [to say] ‘Come on, let’s break this down, let’s work out what type of player you are…’

“I think he has taken a lot of parts of her game, which were strengths and maybe underutilised a little bit, and making sure she is working and playing to her strengths more often.

“A lot of good coaching comes from selling belief and giving that belief to your player and making sure that the player firstly sees that the coaches care about them, that they believe in them and that they are willing to do whatever it takes to make them better players. And Brad is certainly of that nature.”

READ MORE: ‘Pusher’ Brad Gilbert explains why he is not worried about one Coco Gauff ‘flaw’