After losing in the first round of the Australian Open girls’ event, Gauff took a break from the junior circuit during the first half of 2018, and Corey Gauff, a former college basketball player, said he also toned down his coaching. “I still like the command control style, where I say, ‘Jump,’ and you say, ‘How high?’ But that doesn’t work with your daughter,” he said with a laugh.
Coco Gauff returned for the French Open in June 2018, winning the girls’ singles title.
“I am grateful my wife and her were able to work through this when she was 13 and 14, with her feelings and playing tennis and going to high school, how she wanted to dress and look,” Corey Gauff said. “And I’m grateful she was open to talk to her mom about it, because a lot of times teenagers turn to drugs or other people or alcohol or something else to kind of deal with this uncertainty in their life in this period. And fortunately for us she didn’t.”
The Gauffs said their daughter also struggled early last year while adjusting to the professional tour, where she played a limited number of events because of her age and felt pressure to maximize each opportunity.
Both parents said a turning point came after she lost in the first round of a lower-tier WTA event in Bonita Springs, Fla., last May.
“What I saw was somebody who was emotionless and who was going through the motions of playing tennis,” Candi Gauff said. “After that match, I had a long conversation with her, and I said: ‘If you are not happy with what you are doing, you do not have to do it, but what you have to do is try. If you are going to go on court, you must try because your dad is not sacrificing his time away from his other children for you not to try.’ I also told her she could stop playing tennis right now, but that she must do some other sport. That is not negotiable in our household.”
Candi Gauff, an elementary schoolteacher who was a collegiate track and field athlete, remembered that Coco said little at the time but that she soon made a big change in her on-court attitude. With the help of other coaches, including Nick Saviano and Jean-Christophe Faurel, Gauff worked her way out of her funk and honed her game before making her stirring debut at Wimbledon.
She became the youngest singles qualifier at Wimbledon in the Open era and then became a sensation by defeating Venus Williams in the first round of the main draw. Gauff ultimately reached the round of 16, displaying an expressive, often exuberant approach to tennis combat.