EXCLUSIVE: Cori Gauff Talks First WTA Win, Rapid Rise To Fame And Love For Pasta - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Cori Gauff Talks First WTA Win, Rapid Rise To Fame And Love For Pasta

Ubitennis sat down with the teenage prodigy and her marketing agent at the Miami Open.

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Cori Gauff (photo by Chryslène Caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

It is not unusual for a 12-year-old to proclaim that they want ‘to be the greatest of all time’ in their sport. But when Cori Gauff said it in 2017, she attracted a rapid rise in interest and with good reason.

 

Eight days after celebrating her 15th birthday, the American recorded her first ever win in the main draw of a WTA event. Playing in the Miami Open she defeated compatriot and friend Caty McNally in three sets. Becoming the youngest player in a decade to win a main draw match on the women’s tour. In 2009 Madison Keys defeated Alla Kudryavtseva at the age of 14 years and 54 days.

“I’m still trying to process it. Like on the golf cart on the ride back, I was like ‘did this just happen?’ It’s so surreal.” A delighted Gauff began during her interview with Ubitennis. “You know, playing the same players like Serena, I’m just like can’t believe this is happening actually.”

Born in Florida, Gauff has been gifted at sport since she was a child. Participating in gymnastics, athletics and basketball prior to switching her focus to tennis. She comes from a sporting background. Her father, Corey, played basketball at Golden State University. Meanwhile, her mother, Candi, excelled in Track and Field whilst at Florida State University.

“I did basketball and track (athletics). Those were my favourite besides tennis. I was the only girl on the all-boys team for basketball. Which I actually kind of liked. On the track I did 800 meters and the 4x400M relay.” She explained.
“Obviously tennis would be the best.”

Her decision to choose tennis was a very wise one. At the age of 14, she had already been crowned a junior grand slam champion twice. Last year she won the French Open girls’ title before triumphing in the doubles at the US Open. On the ITF tour, she has only lost nine out of 52 matches played on the junior tour in singles.

It is clear that part of Gauff’s rise at such a young age is due to her maturity. She openly admits that she is far from perfect. Although she thrives on the challenges she faces.

“The other sports I mentioned you’re on a team. You’re running for someone else and that puts a lot more pressure because you’re not just playing for yourself, but also you can’t control what other people do.” She said. “Whereas tennis you are out there by yourself. You get to make your own decision. You get coaching, but at the end of the day you’re making the decision, making the plays you want.”
“I like tennis because you get to be out there by yourself and in the moment by yourself.”

The Barilla deal and family values

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Earlier this week, a deal was scored with Barilla. An Italian company famous for their production of pasta. Coincidentally Pasta is one of Gauff’s favourite meals. Saying she likes to mix sauces and cheese whilst eating penne or Spaghetti. Perhaps not the best combination for an emerging athlete, but still.

“I never saw this coming, but they’re super nice.” She commented on the sponsorship deal. “They value what I value, it’s a family company and I really enjoy family-related things. All my family is here with me.”
“I’m just looking forward to getting some free pasta.” She then jokes.

Barilla is the latest company recruiting the teenager. Last year she gained endorsements with both New Balance and Head. The combination of all three endorsements means Gauff is expected to earn roughly $1 million this year. Not too bad for a 15-year-old.

Whilst the rise to fame is one to relish, it can also be as stressful time. There have been numerous cases of athletes suffering from the effects of early fame. So how does Gauff deal with the pressure? For her, it is the support of her family that keeps her grounded.

“It doesn’t make me nervous because even if I’m playing somewhere like Timbuktu my family are always watching. I really like having my brothers at the tournaments, they kind of ease things. There might be a lot of tension because of playing such a big tournament like this (Miami), but they help minimise the moment and make things fun.”

Family plays an important role in her team too. Her father travels with her on the tour and occasionally her mother, depending on the location of the tournament. In addition, her fitness trainer is Richard Williams, who is based at FTX Wellness in Florida. Finally, coach Bobby Poole completes the team.

The only female In Team8

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It was at the age of 13 when Gauff was recruited by management company Team8, which was set up by Roger Federer and his agent Tony Godsick. Still, she is the only female athlete to be represented by them. Their other clients include Juan Martin del Potro.

Alessandro Barel Di Sant Albano is Gauff’s marketing agent. He has been the client manager of the company since November 2016 and has been supporting the teenager throughout her development.

“She was 13 and already playing at 18s level. She was already way ahead of people and we were told that she was going to be one of the next great talents in tennis.” Barel told Ubitennis.
“She has an incredibly professionally minded brain already at that age and was focusing on getting better.“

Team8 isn’t solely focused on tennis, but understandably intends to maintain their links to the sport given their founders. As for Gauff, Barel believes she is everything Team8 is looking for.

“People with integrity who clearly stick with their family. Belonging and people that share a desire to grow a brand and something bigger than themselves.” He said.

Despite her links with Federer, Gauff had never practiced with the 20-time grand slam champion. Although he did give her some ‘advice’ during the Australian Open. As to what that was, she didn’t elaborate.

“I haven’t got the chance to hit with Roger, but I had the chance to meet him a couple of times.” She said.

The future

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Now officially in the top 400, Gauff’s rise up the rankings will not be as quick as she would like. Due to her age, she is restricted by WTA rules. Under the Age Eligibility Rule, she is only allowed to play in a certain number of tournaments. A policy brought into place to prevent rising stars from suffering from early burnout. Something Gauff sees a silver lining to.

“Since I’m not allowed to play a lot of tournaments, it gives me the opportunity to have a lot of training blocks. Right now my game isn’t fully developed.” She states.
“After this (Miami Open) I am going to go to the Mouratoglou academy and train for I don’t know how many weeks.’
“Maybe play a 80K, but it depends on if I can get into the tournament. I’m only allowed a couple wild cards, so I have pick and choose them wisely.”

It is her underdeveloped game that is exciting to many. Growing up playing on hard courts, the American has already claimed a top title on the clay and is becoming a fan of the grass too.

“I played only Roehampton and Wimbledon on grass. But I like it. It wasn’t that hard to get used to. Maybe that was because of my playing style.” Gauff outlined.
“After having time on it. I prefer the red clay to the green clay. It’s more true to balance, easier to slide and you can actually see the marks (on the court).” She added.

A player not afraid to play on any surface at the age of 15, Gauff is a star in the making. On Friday she has a shot of defeating a top 20 player for the first time when she plays Daria Kasatkina.

The match will be a tough ask, but never rule out the fearless teenager.

You can listen to our full interview with Gauff below

 

ATP

(EXCLUSIVE) Ricardas Berankis’ Coach On Wimbledon Showdown With Rafael Nadal

Dirk Hordorff speaks to UbiTennis about the world No.106 and his chances against the second seed.

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Ricarcas Berankis at Wimbledon (image via http://www.yonex.co.uk/_assets/)

Ricardas Berankis is no stranger to Wimbledon as he marks the 12th anniversary of his first-ever main draw win at the tournament after coming through three rounds of qualifying.

 

A stand-out player in his younger years, the Lithuanian topped the world junior rankings and won the US Open boys title back in 2007 when he defeated Jerzy Janowicz in the final. Transitioning to the pro level was never straightforward for Berankis who is now 32-year-old. Nevertheless, he has made his impression on the Tour with runs to two ATP Tour finals in 2012 (Los Angeles) and 2017 (Moscow). He also won the 2015 US Men’s Clay Court doubles title in Houston alongside Teymuraz Gabashvili.

Today Berankis is ranked 106th in the world, which is 56 places below his career-high. His best performance on the ATP Tour so far this season was in Abu Dubai when he came through qualifying to reach the quarter-finals before losing to Denis Shapovalov. He also reached the final of a Challenger event in Lille.

At Wimbledon this year he started his campaign with a straight-sets win over former semifinalist Sam Querrey. Making it only the fourth time in his career he has won a main draw match at the tournament. His reward is a showdown on Thursday with the formidable Rafael Nadal who is seeking a historic 23rd major title and his third in a row. Nadal defeated Francisco Cerundolo in his opening match.

So can Berankis trouble Nadal on the grass?

The best person to ask is Germany’s Dirk Hordorff who coaches Berankis. The veteran coach has also previously collaborated with the likes of Rainer Schuettler, Lars Burgsmüller, Yen-Hsun Lu, Kristian Pless, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Vasek Pospisil.

During an email exchange with UbiTennis, Hordorff shared his thoughts about Berankis’ upcoming clash with Nadal.

UBITENNIS: It wasn’t until Melbourne this year that Ricardas played Nadal on the Tour for the first time. He lost the match 6-2, 7-5. What did his team learn from that experience?

HIRDORFF: I was not in Melbourne, but I coached unsuccessfully in a lot of matches against Rafa. He is next to Novak (Djokovic) over so many years as a true champion and a great person outside the court. You learn every match against him and Ricardas is ready for this match.

UBITENNIS: When it comes to playing a member of the Big Three, how do you as a coach go about dealing with Berankis’ mentality?

HIRDORFF: Ricardas played a good first round against Sam Querrey. Nevertheless, to play Rafa is a different issue. You need to concentrate on your abilities and not worry about history.

UBITENNIS: Nadal was sternly tested during his opening match. Does this in any way give a confidence boost towards Berankis or do you think it is irrelevant?

HIRDORFF: Every match starts at zero. What Rafa played yesterday doesn’t affect Ricardas’ match. Anyway, Rafa won his first round quite solidly against a good upcoming player.

UBITENNIS: Whilst the odds might be against Ricardas, it isn’t impossible that he could defeat Nadal. What will the key areas be for him to focus on during their match? (e.g. return position, use of slice etc).

HIRDORFF: Ricardas needs to focus on his abilities and take his fine form from the first round in this match. Rafa is a complete player, so you need to perform well in all aspects of the game.

UBITENNIS: What is the most difficult thing about playing Nadal on the tour?

HORDORFF: He is a complete player with a lot of special strengths. Strong serve, good backhand, fast, perfect coordinate and no weak parts in his game.

UBITENNIS: Ricardas might be 32 but he has shown some good results on the Tour (runner-up at a Challenger event in Lille and QF in Dubai). Given the trend of players playing later into their careers, is his best yet to come?

HIRDORFF: Ricardas had to deal with a lot of health problems. I am sure that the best part of his career is yet to come for him.

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EXCLUSIVE: Ana Ivanovic On Wimbledon Memories, Players To Watch And Her Admiration For Williams

The former world No.1 takes part in a special Q&A with UbiTennis ahead of the Wimbledon Championships.

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Former world No.1 Ana Ivanovic (image via https://twitter.com/anaivanovic)

This year marks the 15th anniversary of Ana Ivanović’s best-ever run at the Wimbledon Championships.

 

Just weeks after reaching her first major final at the French Open, Ivanović scored back-to-back wins over Nadia Petrova and Nicole Vaidišová (who she saved three match points against) to reach the semi-finals. She was eventually knocked out of the tournament by Venus Williams who went on to clinch the title. In total she played in the Wimbledon main draw 12 times and achieved a win-loss record of 24-12.  

Throughout her career Ivanović won 15 WTA titles, including the 2008 French Open. She also reached the final of another eight events. She holds the honors of being the first woman in history to win a major title whilst representing Serbia and the only player from her country to have held the No.1 position on the WTA Tour. Ivanović’s period of 12 weeks at the top is a longer streak than Williams, Garbine Mugurza and Karolina Pliskova.

This December marks the sixth anniversary of when Ivanović announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 29 following a series of physical issues. At the time WTA CEO Steve Simon hailed her as a “true champion and a great ambassador for the sport of women’s tennis.”

Leading up to this year’s Wimbledon Championships, UbiTennis managed to catch up with the former world No.1 who is married to former football star Bastian Schweinsteiger and has two young children. Through an email exchange, she speaks about life as an ex-player and gives her views on the upcoming Wimbledon Championships. She also reveals her desire to remain connected with tennis in the future but would she consider a coaching role on the Tour?

UBITENNIS: This December will mark six years since you announced your retirement. What do you miss the most about playing on the Tour?

IVANOVIĆ: To be honest the most I miss is the excitement of playing at the big courts in front of the fans and crowds. I have many special and unforgettable memories. I miss a lot that feeling. Besides that, the traveling and competing in different countries was always something I enjoyed.

UBITENNIS: Since retiring, how closely do you follow the sport now?

IVANOVIĆ: I still follow – obviously not as close as when I was playing – but I still have some friends on tour, so I like to see how they are doing, and I like to see new faces and to see new exciting players.

UBITENNIS: Wimbledon begins on Monday and you played in the main draw 12 times during your career. What are your happiest memories of the tournament?

IVANOVIĆ: Of course, my happiest memory of Wimbledon is reaching semifinal there, that was definitely a very special year for me. But also, I do remember one very special match for me, I played against Nadia Petrova, we had 7 rain delays, and we played from 11 in the morning until 7pm, and we manage to finish just before another rainstorm. That was definitely a unique experience and something I will always remember.

UBITENNIS: What was the biggest difficulty for you when it came to switching from playing on the clay to grass within such a relatively short time?

IVANOVIĆ: The biggest difficulty for me personally when it comes to switching from clay court to grass court were the movements. Clay court was always my favorite. I have enjoyed moving on clay and sliding which let me feel free. On the grass you sometimes feel like you didn’t have as good grip – at least me personally, so I think that kind of adjustment of timing of the movement was for me the most difficult.

UBITENNIS: This year’s women’s draw is headed by Iga Swiatek who is currently on a 35-match winning streak. How impressed are you by Swiatek and who do you think is her biggest threat at Wimbledon?

IVANOVIĆ: I think Iga has been playing really well, and she is also very composed, I think she handles her nerves well. As we all know, Tennis – or actually every sport – is becoming more and more mental game next to the physical and talent game.

I think maybe Serena has a chance, Ons also, because she uses lots of drop shots, on the grass, that can be tough to play against. As well as Angelique Kerber she loves to play on grass, she won Wimbledon before, so I hope she does well.

UBITENNIS: Wimbledon will see the return of Serena Williams to the tournament. How impressed are you that she continues to play at the age of 40? Has this ever given you the temptation to return to competitive action as you are six years younger than Serena?

IVANOVIĆ: It is amazing to see Serena back, I know she loves to play on the grass. I really admire her for everything she achieved and to still compete at the high level of sport at the age of 40 – it is incredible. I am really looking forward to see how she will do this year. For me personally to come back to competitive sport I don’t see myself in that direction. I have other visions and dreams and something that I want to do, to also give something back to society.

UBITENNIS:  As for the men’s draw, who are you most excited about watching? Do you think anybody other than Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could win?

IVANOVIĆ: Novak and Rafa are both playing really well. I think Novak enjoys playing on grass more than Rafa does, and he is defending his title. Obviously, it is always exciting to watch them as they already have so many Grand Slams, and competing for more.

Others than them, there are many interesting players at the moment and I always say that new upcoming players can surprise the top players in early rounds while they are still kind of warming up. Players like Novak and Rafa gain more confidence and strength when they come further and further in the tournament, so it is more difficult for younger players to take them out in the semis or finals especially when it is played best of five sets at the Grand Slams.

UBITENNIS: You had such an impressive career as a tennis player, are you ever tempted to pass on what you learnt to others in the future as either a coach or advisor on the Tour?

IVANOVIĆ: I don’t really see myself as a coach on tour, but I do want to stay involved, because Tennis has been my life. I have been playing since I was five. I am happy to share my experience and give advise but definitely not as a coach.

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EXCLUSIVE: Daria Kasatkina’s Coach – Swiatek Will Lose One Day, So Why Not At The French Open?

Following the Kasatkina’s milestone win at Roland Garros, her mentor Carlos Martinez speaks exclusively to Ubitennis.

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Carlos Martinez

At the age of 25 Daria Kasatkina is relishing in her best-ever run at a Grand Slam tournament after reaching the semi-finals of the French Open without dropping a set.

 

Kasatkina, who has been ranked as high as 10th in the world, has been in impressive form throughout the tournament so far after dropping a total of just 14 games in her first four matches. To put that into perspective, only three players have conceded fewer games in the women’s draw to reach the last eight of the French Open since 2000. She encountered a slightly trickier test in Wednesday’s quarter-final where she ousted compatriot Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 7-6(5). A player who earlier in the clay season was runner-up at the Istanbul Open before going on to win the women’s doubles title in Rome.

The world No.20 is now through to the last four of a major for the first time on her 26th attempt. Overseeing her performance is Spanish Coach Carlos Martinez who has been a fixture in her team for three years. Martinez has a wealth of experience in the sport. Besides being a former professional player himself, he has also guided the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez.

“Dasha is generally doing well in this tournament. She’s managing her emotions very good because it is not easy,” Martinez replied when asked about Kasatkina’s French Open run so far.
“At the beginning of the week she had a very good draw because she played against a lucky loser and then in the second round she played against a qualified ranked 200th in the world. She knew she had to win these two matches and that it is not easy to manage her nerves.’
“From that point she started playing much better. Against (Shelby) Rogers she played a very smart match and the exact same against (Camila) Giorgi. Today (in the quarter-finals) was very emotional for her because she played against a fellow Russian.”

According to data from Flashscore, Kasakina has won between 57% and 76% of her first service points during her five matches played at the French Open. Furthermore, she has managed to save 10 out of 19 break points she has faced so far. Whilst they are not flawless statistics, it is the consistency that is bringing her success.

“She is managing very well. She is not playing unbelievable but she’s making very good decisions,” Martinez explains. “This is the work she has been doing in the last couple of weeks during her clay court preparation. We are very happy with the result.”
“(But) we want more. As I told her the train doesn’t come many times and once it passes you have to then catch it.”

Seeking her place in a Grand Slam final for the first time, Kasatkina next takes on Iga Swiatek. A player who has been her nemesis in recent months. She has already played the world No.1 three times in 2022 and lost all of them in straight sets. On the other hand, Kasatkina did beat the Pole in three sets last year on the grass at Eastbourne.

Undoubtedly she will be the underdog in the semi-final given the dominance by her upcoming opponent in recent weeks. Since 2000, only the Williams sisters have won more matches in a row than Swiatek on the WTA Tour.

“Iga is the player who is in the best shape at the moment. She has won her past 33 matches so it won’t be easy. But the thing I said to Dasha is that one day she has to lose, so why not tomorrow? (semi-finals day),” Martinez said of the upcoming match.
“Dasha has the game to try to win. I think it is going to be a good battle. We have nothing to lose and a lot of things to win. So I think it will be an interesting match and I hope that it is going to be a tough battle.’

There is also an extra incentive for Kasakina to win. Should she progress to the final she will enter the top 10 once again for the first time since January 2019.

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