Mastering strategy and simplifying the message: What Brad Gilbert is bringing to Coco Gauff

Breaking down opponents and dissecting match-ups, Gilbert is already having a positive effect on the hugely-talented American

Coco Gauff US Open 2023 Coco Gauff – Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

As anyone who’s ever heard Brad Gilbert on ESPN will know, he loves to talk, sometimes, even when he’s not commentating.

The former world No 4 established his coaching credentials when he masterminded the resurgence of Andre Agassi, helping him get to No 1. He did the same thing with Andy Roddick, the last American man to win the US Open, in 2003.

Now, Gilbert is working with Coco Gauff, having joined the American’s camp this summer. Together with Pere Riba, Gilbert is trying to help Gauff earn the rewards her talent surely merits.

Gauff already reaping the rewards

The 19-year-old, already established in the top 10 and already a Grand Slam finalist, comes into the US Open high on confidence, having won Washington and then the biggest title of her career in Cincinnati. Since Wimbledon, where she lost in the first round, she has lost just once, to Jessica Pegula.

In her first-round win at the US Open on Monday, Gauff struggled for form and rhythm but got the job done. Gilbert, sitting courtside, was chatting away throughout, offering advice, talking to Riba, talking to Gauff, talking to anyone who’d listen.

But though Gilbert loves to talk, what he says and how he says clearly works. Andy Murray, who was coached by Gilbert for 16 months in 2006/7, said Gilbert’s expertise is strategy.

Murray: “He loved discussing match-ups”

“I haven’t watched loads (of Gauff, since Gilbert arrived),” Murray said at the US Open. “But I watched quite a lot of her match yesterday, though. She won probably not playing her best. That was always something that Brad, I know he’s obviously written a book about it (Winning Ugly) but his biggest thing was just always about just strategy.

“He loved discussing match-ups, how to get to people’s weaknesses, just understanding how to win really. It wasn’t so much about the technical side of things or the physical side of things as much. It was very focused on the strategy and finding ways to win matches, which ultimately is the most important thing.

“Everyone can win when they’re playing well. That’s not the difficult part of the game. It’s when you’re playing average tennis, you find ways to get through. So I’m sure he would have been happy with yesterday’s match because it was a tricky one against, like, an awkward opponent. She found a way to get through it. She’s got an opportunity to play better in the next one.”

Coco Gauff Western & Southern Open 2023
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Roddick: “He’s a genius at simplifying things”

Roddick said Gilbert has a special talent for getting his message across in a way that his player will understand it, and utilise it.

“Brad is a genius at taking very complex things and simplifying them,” Roddick said on the Tennis Channel midway through Cincinnati, where Gauff beat world No 1 Iga Swiatek for the first time and went on to win the title.

“We’re going to take these two things out of the gate, we’re going to do it all practice, those things are covered and three days later we’re going to add in something else.

“He’s very good at layering in information and simplifying game-plan, He’s a master strategist. There’ll be no shot that an opponent’s going to hit – there’s what they hit sometimes and what they hit under pressure – he’s very good at finding the differentiators, because they’re not always the same.”

Refusing to give anything away, improving the forehand

Commentating on Gauff in the Cincinnati final against Karolina Muchova, Mark Petchey, another of Murray’s former coaches, suggested that the American was taking some pace off her serve at the start of important games, like when she’s serving for a set, or a match. “Basically, it’s don’t give it away,” he said.

Gauff Cincinnati final
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So far, the impact has been immediate and impressive. Gilbert told the New York Times recently he had been feeling for a while that he’d like to get back out there as a coach. In Gauff, he has a talent well capable of winning Grand Slams.

Petchey pointed out that Gilbert had not tried to make technical changes to her forehand, the area of her game most fragile in the last year. Instead, they’ve worked on positioning, footwork, trying to make sure she’s aggressive with it. It’s still a work in progress, as Monday’s clash with Laura Siegemund proved, but Gilbert knows what an opportunity this is.

Speaking on ESPN on Monday night, Billie Jean King said she would like to see Gauff work on getting her contact point further forward.

But the great thing about Gauff is that she listens, she’s motivated, and she’s enormously talented. If anyone can take her to the next level, it might just be Gilbert.

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