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“I don’t regret smashing my racquet” – Coco Gauff on the trials of being a role model

The young American knows that people are always watching her – but thinks that emotional outbursts can sometimes be a good thing

Coco Gauff Coco Gauff of the U.S. celebrates winning her fourth round match against Belgium’s Elise Mertens (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

Tennis players’ on-court behaviour is always a hot topic, and recent incidents of racquet-throwing and smashing has drawn much condemnation.

Coco Gauff broke her racquet in a fit of frustration when she lost in the Roland-Garros quarter-finals last year to eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova – but she says she doesn’t feel bad about it.

More than that, she says emotional displays like that can go some way towards creating a bond between a young player and the fans.

“I signed [autographs] in Madrid and here I signed, like, took a picture with some girls and they were freaking out after I left, she said after beating Elise Mertens to reach quarter finals again. I went down the stairs. I could still hear them screaming about it, and I was like that’s so crazy to me. I kind of teared up, because the fact that people feel about me in that way. I always try to tell people – sometimes people say, I’m nervous to come up to you, or I saw you, and I get DMs sometimes, I was scared to say hi.

Coco Gauff at Roland-Garros against Elise Mertens (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

“I’m just a person as well as you are a person, and I’m going to treat you the same. So I think for me being a role model for some people is crazy, and I’m super grateful and it’s something I will never take for granted. I will try to put forth my best effort with how I act on the court and how I act off the court.”

Gauff: It’s OK to make mistakes

And that includes making mistakes and acknowledging them, she says.

“Obviously I’m going to make some mistakes and have some bad moments, but I think for me as long as I show that…it’s with good intent, like last year I broke a racquet here, and people ask did I regret it? No, I don’t regret it.

“I think it’s important as a young player that we show vulnerability and show that it’s OK to make mistakes, and as long as you learn from them, and obviously breaking a racquet – not hitting an umpire or anything like that, there is a certain extent to that – but just little stuff like that, I think it’s just important to show with that. Having my role models recognise me is something that I never imagined when I was younger.”

Gauff: Ignore the seedings, anyone can win

Seeded 18th, Gauff beat Elise Mertens 6-4, 6-0 in the fourth round, and will face either compatriot Sloane Stephens or Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann in the quarter-final. The 18-year-old feels quietly confident that the red clay is a surface that suits her game.

“I feel the clay really well. But, yeah, I think, I really do think anything can happen. We do have our strong contenders in the tournament. Some people consider me one of them.

“But, yeah, I think going in, I don’t think about other people’s opinions on what’s gonna happen in the draw or other players’ opinions or what’s gonna happen, because I really truly believe that anybody can win no matter what. And not even just [because of the 2021] US Open but previous tournaments, you know, where people thought bigger players will win and those younger, smaller younger players, lower-ranked players came out on top.

“I think really we just have to take a step back, especially in the Grand Slams, and take a step back and not look at rankings anymore, because I think anybody can win. I think in Grand Slams that really comes out the most than any other tournament.”

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