Coco Gauff recounts feeling 'suffocated' and breaking point that prompted change

Gauff set huge goals for herself early in her career and that had one negative side.

by Dzevad Mesic
Coco Gauff recounts feeling 'suffocated' and breaking point that prompted change
© Getty Images Sport - Julian Finney

Coco Gauff says her fairytale 2019 Wimbledon debut also had a negative side because that led to setting enormous expectations on herself and ultimately feeling "suffocated" before resetting and returning to her old perspective and mentality. 

Exactly five years ago, a 15-year-old Gauff made her way into the Wimbledon qualifying - but that wasn't all - since she made it past the qualifying and then went on to reach the round-of-16 in her Grand Slam debut. And not only that Gauff made the Wimbledon round-of-16 as a 15-year-old qualifier, but she also upset her idol and five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams that year. 

Last year when Gauff returned to Wimbledon as a top-10 player, she lost in the first round to Sofia Kenin and left the court looking absolutely heartbroken and devastated. For Gauff, it was yet another Grand Slam tournament where she failed to win it all and the chances of her accomplishing her big goal of becoming a Slam champion as a teenager were decreasing. 

But the 2023 Wimbledon disappointment ended up being the best thing that could have happened for Gauff as that was the moment when the American realized something needed to change. When the 20-year-old American returned to action last summer, she won her first WTA 1000 title in Cincinnati and also became a Slam champion at the US Open. 

"After that first Wimbledon I felt a lot of pressure. I felt almost suffocated by expectations, like I wasn't playing for myself," Gauff told The Daily Mail.

"It changed after losing here first round last year. I realized this mentality wasn't sustainable. I felt if I continued like this it would make tennis unenjoyable. I realized I had to worry about myself and not the other expectations people have for me.

"I went back to the mentality I had when I was 15 — there was only one match I was nervous for and that was to play Venus and that was because it was Venus, not because it was Wimbledon. But second round, third, fourth I was never nervous and I feel like that now.

"There are obviously nerves but not the suffocating nerves where you're like, 'If I lose what's going to happen?'. It's more like, 'This is really exciting, I hope I do well.'"

Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff© Getty Images Sport - Julian Finney

Gauff on if she can emulate her idol Serena Williams 

When Gauff won the 2023 US Open for her first Grand Slam title at the age of 19, she emulated Williams in one thing - in 1999, the American tennis legend also lifted her first Slam at Flushing Meadows and she was a teenager. Gauff may be on the list of Grand Slam winners with Williams but she is still 22 Slams away from just tying the Slam number that her idol pulled off during her astonishing career. 

Asked about her future goals, the 20-year-old American admitted that catching Williams is probably impossible but revealed that she would like to add at least nine more Slam titles before retiring. 

'I want to be the best version of myself. Watching Serena I was like, 'There's no-one going to be greater than her. I definitely want to at least get to double digits in Slams. I just want to be the best me, try to win as many Slams as possible and see where life takes me," Gauff said.

Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff© Getty Images Sport - Clive Brunskill

Gauff tells a great story from 2019

In the same interview, Gauff also revealed that just before her 2019 Wimbledon run happened, her parents asked her to think well about her next life and career move. But after 2019 Wimbledon, Gauff's parents didn't have any more questions as then they became sure that tennis was the right path for their daughter. 

"I lost first round in qualifying in Bonita springs, a 100k tournament, and Mom and Dad were like, 'OK, you need to figure out what you're going to do' and then this happened!" Gauff recalled.

"I remember feeling super confident going into Wimbledon qualifiers that I was going to make it to the main draw. I drew the first seed in the first round and won and the other two matches were kind of a blur.

"Then obviously the Venus match was insane and that was the moment I thought, 'Maybe my dreams are closer than I realized."

Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff© Getty Images Sport - Shaun Botterill

At this year's Wimbledon, Gauff came as the No. 2 seed and one of the top favorites for the title and she started her run by beating Caroline Dolehide 6-1 6-2. So far, Gauff has had two Wimbledon round-of-16 results and there is no doubt that she will be determined to change that in the next two weeks.

Coco Gauff