SAN DIEGO – After 18 1/2-year-old Coco Gauff defeated 18-years-old-last-month Robin Montgomery in a two-part first round match at the San Diego Open, the elder went over to the younger after the post-match handshake and hug.
And suddenly, they were just two teens again.
Giggling a little, laughing, as Gauff said she hoped their next meeting would be a final somewhere, not a first round.
But the ball-striking was impressive. The potential – both already realized and yet to come – great news for American tennis and women’s tennis in general.
Montgomery is ranked No. 277 in the world, coming off a three-month break and just starting to work her way up the WTA Tour rankings even as she is still, technically, a junior.
Over the weekend, the lefty rolled over No. 2 qualifying seed Zhang Shuai, a highly experienced, well-ranked player in both singles and doubles. And then, she overcame a 1-6 first set to defeat fellow American lefty Bernarda Pera in three sets.
She was up early on Gauff as they began their match Tuesday night. But the rain break, in the end, didn’t do much to turn the momentum around as Gauff came back Wednesday and finished off the job.
Top junior making the transition
Montgomery won both the junior singles and doubles at the US Open a year ago. And now the job of tennis begins.
It’s a perfectly normal pathway – and yet, just six months younger, Gauff is top 10 in the world and already one the more recognizable faces in the sport.
Gauff used the term “unorthodox” rather than “precocious” to describe her own particular journey. And she remembered that the two took a few USTA tennis trips together as … eight-year-olds.
What they have in common is that both appear clear about where they are and there they want to be.
When you remember how you were as an 18-year-old, and you watch and listen to these two navigate the shark-infested waters they operate in with humour, humility and a little bit of self-deprecation, it’s as reassuring as it is inspiring.