May 15, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

The future on display: Gauff vs. McNally (photos)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – It was only nine months ago that two bright young American prospects were playing in the junior girls’ singles final at the French Open.

Coco Gauff, then 14, came back to beat Caty McNally, then 16 1/2, in a third-set tiebreak after losing the first set 6-1.

Thursday at the Miami Open, both armed with wild cards from the tournament, they showed that even in that span of time, they are already immeasurably better.

And, with two easy, willing all-court games, you hope it’s a sign of progress in the women’s game. 

Better athletes with the ability to execute all the shots, combined with women’s coaches who capable technically and armed the patience required for an all-court game to come together, can only be good for the women’s game.

In this one, Gauff again prevailed. This time, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4. It’s a good win in the sense that McNally’s current WTA Tour ranking is more than 200 spots higher than that of Gauff.

Here’s what it looked like.

Gauff will face No. 14 seed Daria Kasatkina in the second round Friday. The Russian, currently coachless on top of it all, is out of the top 20 this week for the first time in more than a year.

Kasatkina has played six tournaments so far this season. And she has posted exactly one victory: against No. 178 Magdalena Frech in the first round of Dubai.

At Indian Wells last week, she lost 6-2, 6-1 to Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic.

(Update: Kasatkina got a much needed boost in a 6-3, 6-2 victory).

’18 Girls’ final a spectacle

Flash back to last year’s girls’ final, and it was quite the … show.

Gauff was with Nike then. (She has since signed with Federer agent Tony Godsick, defected to the color-clashing New Balance, and added a Barilla pasta patch).

But the entourage was significant, even then.

Shortly after she won, mentor Patrick Mouratoglou shepherded a big crew of people onto the court in Paris.

At that point, they all kind of lined up to have their photos taken with the champion. Some of them (we won’t name names), went back more than once.

It felt like a whole lot to manage for a 14-year-old. But that’s the baggage that comes along with being a genuine phenom. It’s both a blessing, and a curse.

Gauff is currently still the No. 2-ranked junior in the world, although it appears she said goodbye to the juniors after winning the Orange Bowl last December.

The age-eligibility rules will continue to be a factor with Gauff. And, having just turned 15 less than two weeks ago, she’ll have to deal with that for another three years.

But the new ITF World Tour setup has her allowed to use her junior ranking to get into events. And, unless we read the documentation incorrectly, there’s no limit to how many times she can take advantage of that privilege.

Gauff has played just four events this season. She lost in the second round in singles at the $100,000 ITF in Midland, Michigan in February. But she reached the doubles final.

At a $25,000 tournament in Surprise, Arizona two weeks later, she reached the singles final (losing to former phenom Sesil Karatantcheva). She won the doubles title with Paige Hourigan of New Zealand.

Gauff lost in the first round of the Oracle Challenger at Indian Wells, in three sets to Timea Bacsinszky. She then lost to fellow American Maria Sanchez in the first round of a $25,000 ITF in Irapuato, Mexico, 6-2, 6-2.

Her current singles ranking is No. 456 (not far from her career high), and in doubles it’s No. 404.

After winning a round in Miami, she’ll move up about 75 spots, to around No. 380.

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