“People were like: ‘she’s hit her peak and she’s done'”: How painful losses turned Coco Gauff into a US Open champion

Coco Gauff has explained how losing in Roland-Garros and Wimbledon helped release her from the burden of expectation, and play for herself rather than others

Coco Gauff US Open 2023 © Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic
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Coco Gauff is a Grand Slam champion at age 19, defeating soon-to-be world No 1 Aryna Sabalenka in three sets at the US Open on Saturday.

The win comes off the back of a scintillating run of form, with the American going 18-1 across the North American hard-court swing. However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing this year for Gauff, with the US Open’s latest champion having some tough losses at the Grand Slam events leading up to her victory in New York.

Speaking after her win over Sabalenka, Coco Gauff has revealed how it’s these painful losses at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon that helped shaped her into the player she needed to be to win the US Open.

Coco Gauff US Open 2023
Coco Gauff, US Open 2023 | © Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

Roland-Garros losses spark mental reset for Gauff

In 2022, Coco Gauff made her first Grand Slam final at Roland-Garros and was thoroughly dispatched by a red-hot Iga Swiatek, losing 6-1, 6-3 to the Pole.

This defeat, plus her failure to back to up in 2023 when she again fell at the hands of Swiatek in straight sets, was exactly what Gauff needed to bring about a change in her mindset.

“Honestly, I feel like probably this French Open is honestly where it changed,” explained Gauff. “Because I felt pressure to back up the final, and I obviously didn’t. So I was, like, Okay, well, I’ve got to reset.”

Gauff described some of this pressure she faced earlier in her career, saying:

“I mean, it was to the point where I remember I lost when I was 17 and there was a stat, they were like, ‘Oh, she’s not going to win a slam before Serena’s age.’ It was stuff like that that I felt like I had a time limit on when I should win one, and if I won one after a certain age it wouldn’t be an achievement.”

“It’s been difficult. I mean, it’s been a long journey to this point. I wasn’t a fully developed player, and I still think I have a lot of development to go at that moment. I think people were putting a lot of pressure on me to win. I felt that at 15 I had to win a slam at 15. I think that was, you know, not the mistake, because everything led to this moment so there was no mistakes.”

Coco Gauff, Roland-Garros 2023
Coco Gauff, Roland-Garros 2023 | © Panoramic

Free of expectations, Gauff able to focus on her own game

With Gauff losing to Swiatek in the quarter-finals of Roland-Garros, she then lost three of her next seven matches across the grass court swing as well, culminating in a first round Wimbledon against Sofia Kenin defeat which she described as, “a tough, tough loss.”

The 19-year-old revealed that her confidence was down following the Wimbledon result, saying, “I would say for sure a little bit after the Wimbledon loss, honestly. I just felt like people were, like, oh, she’s hit her peak and she’s done. And yeah, honestly after that, I was, like, okay, I have a lot of work to do.”

While these tough losses hit Gauff’s confidence, they also freed her of that weight of expectation that had been on her much of her career. Turns out, this was what her game needed.

“But that was, like, a little bit of the pressure that I was feeling,” said Gauff of her emotions during the Roland-Garros loss. “Now I just realise that I just need to go out there and try my best.”

And that’s exactly what she did, with Gauff’s first match back on court after Wimbledon seeing her win a WTA 500 title in Washington, before making the quarter-final in Montreal and winning her maiden WTA 1000 title in Cincinnati.

Now, with a Grand Slam title to her name, the American has well and truly fulfilled all the expectations placed on her at a young age—even if now, she’s not bothered by these.

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