Tennis: Coco walks out of depression stronger and more focused
American tennis player Cori “Coco” Gauff. [Photo: Reuters]

Cori “Coco” Gauff launched herself to global stardom as a 15-year-old at Wimbledon a year ago, but she’s revealed that she considered abandoning her career in tennis as she struggled to cope with expectations on her young shoulders.

Gauff, now 16, admitted she ‘was really depressed for about a year’ and in a ‘dark mindset’ where she failed to see the positives in the career she was pursuing.

After deciding against hanging up her racquet for a year, Gauff enjoyed a remarkable breakthrough at the All England Club, becoming the youngest player to come through Wimbledon qualifying in the Open Era before storming to the fourth round.

It was the latest remarkable result in a budding career that saw her enjoy great success as a junior – where she won the French Open and became the youngest finalist at her home Slam, the US Open – but the ‘added hype’ from those achievements prior to her breakout on the main tour saw her struggle to find enjoyment in her work. 

“Throughout my life, I was always the youngest to do things, which added hype that I didn’t want. It added this pressure that I needed to do well fast. Right before Wimbledon, going back to around 2017/18, I was struggling to figure out if this was really what I wanted,” she wrote in Behind The Racquet.

“I always had the results so that wasn’t the issue, I just found myself not enjoying what I loved. I realised I needed to start playing for myself and not other people.”

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“Even though I had, it felt like there weren’t many friends there for me. When you are in that dark mindset, you don’t look on the bright side of things too often, which is the hardest part.”

Gauff has been praised for on-court maturity beyond her years – something she believes stems from ‘overcoming low points’ in her life.

“I don’t think it had much to do with tennis, maybe just about juggling it all,” she added. “I knew that I wanted to play tennis but didn’t know how I wanted to go about it. It went so far that I was thinking about possibly taking a year off to just focus on life. Choosing not to obviously was the right choice but I was close to not going in that direction.”

“I was just lost. I was confused and overthinking if this was what I wanted or what others did. It took many moments sitting, thinking and crying. I came out of it stronger and knowing myself better than ever. Everyone asks me how I stay calm on court and I think it’s because I accepted who I am after overcoming low points in my life.”

“Now, when I’m on court, I am just really thankful to be out there.”

Since her Wimbledon breakthrough, Gauff has gone on to reach the third round of the US Open and the last-16 at the Australian Open while winning a first WTA title in Linz.

Comparisons have been drawn between the teenager and the Williams sisters but Gauff – who has beaten Venus Williams at two Slams already and trains at the academy run by Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou – does not feel she should be viewed through the same lens as the American greats.

“I have girls now coming up to me, of all races but mostly African Americans, saying they are picking up a racquet for the first time because of me,” Gauff said.

“For me, one of the biggest things is to continue breaking barriers. At the same time I don’t like being compared to Serena or Venus. First, I am not at their level yet.”

“I always feel like it’s not fair to the Williams sisters to be compared to someone who is just coming up. It just doesn’t feel right yet, I still look at them as my idols. With all their accolades, I shouldn’t be put in the same group yet.”

“Of course I hope to get to where they are but they are the two women that set the pathway for myself, which is why I can never be them. I feel like I wouldn’t even have the opportunity to be at this level without them.”

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