On the latest ITF Junior ranking list, there are 26 girls born in 2004 or later, all making their first steps on the U18 level against older and more developed rivals. Four of those are ranked in the top-200 and there is one special player who has already completed a full circle at the age of 14 and achieved what her coevals will seek only in two or three years! Cori Gauff has been anything but a regular tennis player born in 2004, proving her quality against the older juniors and also on the professional circuit to earn my honor of the best junior in the world in 2018, despite being ranked 2nd! The Russian Diana Shnaider is the second-best player of 2004 generation but it is hard to even put her in the same sentence with the super talented American who has achieved just about everything she could after playing 12 ITF junior events overall! This amazing young athlete has chosen tennis over other sports when she was eight and she moved with her family from Atlanta to Florida in order to build her game in the best possible way.
Cori, nicknamed Coco, had been chosen by Patrick Mouratoglou to be part of his Champ’seed foundation and she had a chance to work at his amazing academy (she also had a chance to meet her idol Serena Willimas there) and get the additional support during the tournaments, which meant a lot to her and her family.
Also, Gauff has forged her game at the New Generation Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, working with Gerard Loglo on her basic preparations and groundstrokes and with only one thing on her mind, to become the greatest player of all time! Cori was destined to become a successful athlete, with her father Corey playing basketball for Georgia State University, and her mother Candi who was a gymnast and ran tracker at Florida State University, and this young girl is already very tall (still growing, of course) and strong enough to battle against much older players.
In November 2017 Gauff turned pro, signing a contract with Team8, and she couldn't wait to turn 14 this March to start her pro career. As we already said, Coco was always in front of her coevals, winning the U12 National Clay Court Championships in 2014 at the age of 10 and the U14 USTA National Selection Tournament in November that year before losing in the semi-final of the U12 Junior Orange Bowl to Whitney Osuigwe.
She won the U12 Orange Bowl in 2016 and the beginning of 2017 was very successful for Gauff as well, lifting the trophy at the Nike Junior International Bolton event and losing in the semi-final of Les Petits As to Dasha Lopatetskaya in what has been one of the best matches on the junior level in recent years.
Competing in only her second main draw on ITF junior level, Cori reached the final of the Prince George’s County International Hard Court Junior Tennis Championships last August before an amazing run at the US Open where she lost in the title match against Amanda Anisimova, still at the age of 13! Whitney Osuigwe toppled Cori in the second round of the U18 Orange Bowl but she managed to win a set against the best junior in the world, setting the tone for 2018 when she became the leader of the pack.
Gauff kicked off 2018 season with the semi-final at the AGL Loy Yang Traralgon Junior International before losing at the start of the Australian Open. After taking some weeks off, Cori turned 14 in March and she was couldn't wait to make her pro debut, entering $25,000 Osprey event at the end of May and writing history instantly, qualifying for the main draw and beating Alexandra Perper 6-2 6-3 to become the first player born in 2004 with pro win! The best was yet to come for this outstanding girl, heading to Paris to compete at Roland Garros as the youngest player in the main draw.
Entering her first Major after turning 14, Cori went all the way to lift the title and become the fourth youngest junior singles champion in Paris after Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati and Gabriela Sabatini, playing only her seventh ITF junior tournament in a career! Caty McNally pushed her to the limits in the title match but Cori prevailed in the deciding tie break to write her name in the record books and prove her immense talent and determination once again.
Despite her age, Gauff produced a thrilling package of powerful serving, great court coverage and a point-construction well worth of some much older and experienced player. Carried by this momentum, Gauff went back to the USA and she qualified for her second pro event at $25,000 Baton Rouge, overcoming three obstacles in qualifications and beating Hayley Carter for her second pro win.
There was no time for celebration, though, heading back to Europe where she entered Grade 1 Junior International in Roehampton, scoring another win over Caty McNally to win back-to-back junior titles and move to Wimbledon as the 3rd seed despite the fact she was the youngest player in the draw once again.
Xiyu Wang halted her in the quarters after a great battle and the American also played in the doubles semi-final to earn enough points and become junior number 1 at the age of 14, moving 153 points ahead of Whitney Osuigwe to grab another milestone that will hardly be repeated anytime soon.
By the end of the season, Cori played just three junior events, losing to Dasha Lopatetskaya in the quarter-final of the US Open but winning the doubles title with McNally, repeating the same feat at the Mundial Juvenil Yucatan to collect more points and keep herself among the best juniors in the world.
Orange Bowl was the perfect place for Cori to wrap up her season, competing at one of her most favorite events near the place she lives and trains. After five easy wins, Gauff prevailed against Qinwen Zheng in the title match to win her third big junior title and finish the year ranked second behind the 17-year-old Clara Burel.
After winning the title, Cori said she is probably done with junior tennis (at the age when her coevals are just starting with it!) and that she wants to enter the WTA top-100 in 2019. With only three players younger than 19 currently standing in the top-100, this may sound like an impossible goal for the girl who will turn 15 in March but if anyone is capable of achieving that it must be the hero of our story, the best junior in the world for 2018 no matter she finished second in the standings!
"My father told me at the beginning of the tournament, OK, this is probably your last junior tournament, so play how you want to be remembered, and that's what I was thinking," said Gauff. "People mostly know me to always fight, and even when I was down that's how I want to be remembered, at least in junior tennis.
We'll see what the next chapter has for me. The crowd has been here all week for me. Clearly they were rooting for me, and there were faces who were here since Monday, not people I knew, but now I know. I was expecting when it rained, no one would come, but people came back.
I think that kind of helped because I remember saying this in my head, all these people are here rooting for you down 4-2, so you should start rooting for yourself. And I think that kind of helped turn the match around. I was serving well the whole match.
If I didn't expect my serve to come through, I wouldn't have went for it, I just would have tried to get it in. I think on almost every break point I hit a good serve, and she missed it or something like that, and I'm just glad it went in.
Right now I'm just playing some ITF pro events to get my ranking up and to see if I can get wild cards into certain tournaments. I think next year, that's my goal, to be top 100 in WTA. A lot of people think I played this to finish No.
1. That wasn't my goal. My dad asked me mid-year, and I said, I don't really care, I just want to finish Top 5, so I can get those extra [WTA] tournaments."