US Open 2019: Is the hype healthy for 15-year-old Coco Gauff?
Coco Gauff’s emergence has caused quite a stir but is the scrutiny healthy for a 15-year-old?
The 2019 film ‘Diego Maradona’, a documentary covering a period of the great Argentina footballer’s life, brilliantly depicts the breathless intensity of life as a superstar.
Put together with behind-the-scenes Maradona footage from various sources in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the critically acclaimed picture portrays the fierce adoration of supporters, the media and more that built and broke the ex-Napoli forward.
Quite understandably, it seems everyone wanted a piece of El Diego. Quite understandably, it seems this took its toll.
Watching Coco Gauff in the aftermath of her second-round US Open win was initially adorable and then a little uncomfortable.
The 15-year-old, with five main-draw grand slam triumphs to her name already, was riding the crest of her very own wave, blushing as the crowd chanted her name and then giggling excitedly as she was reminded defending champion Naomi Osaka is up next.
It is customary for victors on the show courts to then stick around for a moment or two after the interviews to sign autographs and take pictures before quickly disappearing back to the dressing room.
Gauff went above and beyond for her fans as the camera lingered for several minutes. Teenage boys tussled over signed merchandise, others tripped over themselves to get involved in the scrum. Coco kept smiling, kept signing. Some supporters were polite and grateful, others appeared blunt and rude. Coco kept going.
Many children her age – Gauff has beaten Venus Williams but is still just a child – might be discouraged from speaking to strangers. With a security guard at her side, Coco had an army of them, like Maradona, wanting a piece of her.
Even for a player long tipped for success as a junior, Gauff’s introduction to women’s tennis has been quite remarkable. Against Timea Babos, she showed her power, her devilish speed and a defensive showing Simona Halep would be proud of. There was nothing in her performance to suggest she cannot one day live up to the hype surrounding her.
That hype is considerable. Daniela Hantuchova, on Amazon’s Flushing Meadows coverage, gushed as she assessed Gauff’s display. This was a future multiple-major winner, she said. The first serve of Venus, the second serve of Serena. Wow.
Coco has been the name on everyone’s lips since Wimbledon, where Serena, Roger Federer and the rest discussed her thrilling breakthrough. She traded messages with Michelle Obama. Kobe Bryant was in New York on Thursday and keen to take in the clash with Babos.
And the world’s top tennis prospect has understandably capitalised on this attention as a no-doubt-lucrative New Balance deal has seen the player, her team and her family turn out in shirts and shoes adorning the slogan, “Win or lose, call me Coco”. She is being readied to rule the world.
A young Maradona, likewise destined for the top, had a camera crew follow him around in the days before this was normal, recording footage intended to make him a movie star. Ultimately, this would form part of the film that concluded with the tale of his downfall.
Gauff has dealt with her new status incredibly well and will, you would imagine, continue to do so as long as the coverage remains positive and she keeps performing far above the level ordinarily expected of a teenager. There appears no pressure at this stage as she defeats senior pro after senior pro.
Yet might Osaka, her next opponent, be able to offer a word of warning? The Japanese appeared at ease and content on the WTA Tour a year ago, steadily forging an impressive career but not yet a victim of the expectation that comes with success.
That all changed with victory first at the US Open and then in Melbourne. Osaka became world number one and initially hated it. “Mentally, it was way more stress and pressure than I could have imagined,” she said. Sport can chew up and spit out even the most prodigious talent.
Osaka should beat Gauff and so there will be no outrage if the American is undone. The biggest feel-good story in tennis will roll on and on, the hype growing and then eventually perhaps, too, the scrutiny.
Whether Coco reaches superstardom or falls some way short, her health and happiness must remain intact throughout her career. Others have not always found that to be the case.