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
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
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.
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
From Serena Williams’ Return To Strycova’s Rise: Coaches Shed Light on Their players At Wimbledon
On the eve of women’s semi-finals day at Wimbledon, the coaches working behind the scenes share their thoughts.
WIMBLEDON: On Thursday the four women taking to Center Court to play their semi-final matches will not be the only nervous people in the stadium. Watching from the sidelines will be their coaches. Who are tasked with the responsibility of trying to guide their players to grand slam glory.
24 hours before the matches took place, the mentors of Elina Svitolina, Serena Williams and Barbora Strycova spoke with the media. The latest initiative by the WTA, who has increasingly conducted more media sessions with coaches. Something the ATP Tour is yet to do. The only person missing from the session was Daniel Dobre. Dobre, who is the coach of Simona Halep, declined the invitation. Worried that he may jinx the former world No.1 if he spoke. Shortly after Dobre spoke in public at the French Open, Halep lost.
Svitolina’s British asset
Being British Andrew Bettles knows Wimbledon very well. He is a former junior player who once featured in the boy’s draw. Unfortunately for Somerset-born Bettles, he admits that he was ‘not good enough’ to embark upon professional tennis. However, he has always made an impact on the WTA Tour at the age of 26.
“It’s amazing. Growing up Wimbledon has always been so special. To be around it is amazing for me personally.” Said Bettles.
“I wasn’t a good enough player, but the coaching side always fascinated me. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing coaches, and I’ve been lucky that Elina has given me this opportunity to be her coach.”
A former hitting partner to Ana Ivanovic, he was eventually promoted to the coach of Svitolina, who has become the first woman from her country to reach the last four of a grand slam. Svitolina will play Halep in her semi-final match and leads their head-to-head 4-3.
“It’s always been a good match-up.” Bettles previewed. “I think the key is to be aggressive and kind of maybe take a bit of control from the baseline. Then see if she can dictate the point.”
“The grass is playing pretty slow so it is about being more aggressive. The Grass is a leveler, but you can use it to your advantage as well. “ He added.
Whilst he may still be considered a newcomer to the world of coaching, Bettles has already proven that he knows what he is doing. Guiding his player to the WTA Finals title last year.
“I think because we are similar ages we get on very well. I can understand what she is going through and we are good friends. It’s not like I’m the boss. We talk things through and work things out together.” The Brit commented about their partnership.
Five facts about Bettles
-Graduated from Boise State University in 2014 with a degree in English Lit
-He was Boise State University’s No.1 singles player
-A former national champion in juniors
-Worked with Ivanovic between 2015-2016, before joining Svitolina’s team in 2017.
-During a very brief time on the Futures tour, he peaked at a high of 917th and won $5,968 in prize money.
Patrick Mouratoglou is undoubtedly one of the most well-known coaches in the world of women’s tennis. He has been guiding Serena Williams on the tour after working with a wealth of players on both the men’s and women’s tour.
It has been a turbulent season for the Mouratoglou-Williams team. Injury issues with Williams’ ankle and knee has hampered her training sessions and tournament schedule. Wimbledon is only the sixth WTA tournament of 2019 for the 37-year-old.
“I think she is in a good place at the moment. I think she is happy.” The Frenchman said ahead of Williams’ match against Strycova.
“She has been pain-free for three weeks and feels so much lighter.’
“When you focus on your pain so much because you’re in pain, it is difficult to prepare well for tournaments. You have to adapt to that pain to play tournaments.”
Williams has undoubtedly been gathering in momentum as the Wimbledon tournament has progressed. She has dropped two sets in five matches played. Scoring wins over seeded players Juia Georges in the third round and Carla Saurez Navarro in the fourth. In the quarter-finals, she edged her way past Alison Riske. One of the most in-form players on grass this season.
“In the last match (against Riske) you could see that she was able to raise her game when necessary, which was one of her trademarks. Everything is positive.” Said Mouratoglou.
“She started really slow in the tournament in terms of the level of play. I think the second round match was a key moment. I said afterward (to Serena) that it was the first time she was really struggling with her game and she dug deep and the next two sets were so much better. She felt her game better.”
Quietly confident of more success on Thursday at The All England Club, Williams’ mentor says her game is suited for the grass.
“Serve and return are two of her biggest assets. On the grass when you have those two things you have a big advantage and that is probably why she has had so much success on that surface.”
The American has won more matches (106) and more titles (8) than any other active player on the surface. This year is her 16th main draw appearance at Wimbledon.
Five facts about Mouratoglou
-Started coaching at the age of 26
-Previously coached Marcos Baghdatis (2005-06), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (2006-08), Yanina Wickmayer (2010), Aravane Rezai (2009-2010), Laura Robson (2010-11), Jeremy Chardy (2011) and Grigor Dimitrov (2011-12)
– 84% of Williams’ time as world No.1 has been under his guidance
-Founder of the prestigious Mouratoglou Tennis Academy
-Also works as a TV commentator
The late bloomer
At the age of 33 Strycova is relishing in her best ever run at a grand slam tournament. Whilst not being the most powerful player on the tour, she counteracts speed with the use of slice, as well as the serve and volley. Reminiscent of how the game used to be played in the past. Strycova’s play proved too much for her opponent in the previous round.
“When you are playing against a player like (Johanna) Konta, who is more powerful than you, you have to find a way to eliminate that and play something different.” Explained coach Lukas Dlouhy.
“Hopefully we can find some tactic for Serena as well.”
Dlouhy is one of two coaches working with the Czech. The other is David Kotyza, who used to collaborate with Petra Kvitova. Strycova is also an accomplished doubles player and is currently ranked third in the world.
“We started 18 months ago together with Barbora. Some tournaments David goes to and some tournament I am going to.” Dlouhy commented about the setup.
“We just have to make a right schedule and that’s it.’
“We are working together so there are no disagreements.”
Refusing to give any details about the game plan for the upcoming match, which is likely to be similar to the one she used against Konta, Strycova’s mentor believes Williams can be beaten. Even though she hasn’t won a set in their three previous meetings on the tour.
“When you have a 0-3 record against Serena it’s tough. But she’s trying and she wants to win. She isn’t just going there to participate.” He said.
“It different because she was younger and had a different type of game. Now she is at the top of her game.’
“Serena has won everything, but she has days when you can beat her. So hopefully we can find out a way about how to do it.”
Known for her sometimes fiery attitude on the court, Dlouhy admits that it isn’t always easy to work with the former top 20 player. However, the positives outweigh the negatives.
“She has a lot of emotions. So some days it is tough to be in her box. Otherwise, she’s a good girl. She’s working and doing everything right. It’s enjoyable to be with her.” He concluded.
Five facts about Dlouhy
-A former world No.5 in doubles
-Played hockey as a teenager, but chose to focus fully on tennis at the age of 15
-Won 10 ATP doubles titles, including the French Open and the US Open in 2009.
-Growing up his tennis idol was Yevgeny Kafelnikov
-Earned more than $3 million in prize money during his professional career.
The women’s semi-finals will get underway at 13:00 on Thursday. The first match will be Svitolina against Halep followed by Williams’ clash with Strycova.
EXCLUSIVE: ITF Presidential Candidate Dave Miley Talks Olympics, Money And Trust Issues
Ubitennis speaks to the man bidding to become one of the most powerful people in the world of tennis.
WIMBLEDON: A mile away from the venue of the Wimbledon Champions is an elegant cafe. Spotless inside, plenty of waiters and a hint of traditional decoration. A suitable venue for the launch of the latest political campaign in the world of Tennis.
David Miley addressed a room full of media to officially kick-off his candidacy to become the President of the International Tennis Federation. Backed by Tennis Ireland, the former ITF administrator has vowed to revamp the organization, marred in recent months by Davis Cup changes and the controversial transition Tour. His pledges include implementing a chairman to ensure greater accountability within the organization, introduce a brand new ITF world Championships and holding a summit of world tennis in 2020.
“I believe tennis is very fragmented at the moment and is not very healthy. The ITF has a perception that it is quite weak and I want to change that.” Miley said during his presentation.
“My manifesto is underpinned by two things. What’s good for tennis and what is good for the nations of the ITF.”
Speaking with confidence, Miley wasn’t phased by any question asked by those watching him. Ranging from the controversies surrounding the fairness of the ITF Presidential process to managing the billion-pound tennis market. After his question and answer session, Ubitennis spoke directly with the man aiming to dethrone David Haggerty later this year.
It is the future of tennis’ involvement in the Olympic Games that is raising concerns. At present, there are strict guidelines for players wanting to play in the event. In order to be eligible, they must participate in three ties during an Olympic cycle. This is reduced to two ties depending on the length of service or the zone group round-robin criteria as specified in the eligibility rule. Although there are exceptions. As a consequence, some of the world’s top names will not be able to feature unless they submit an appeal.
“I think the ITF is the governing body of tennis and it is very important that they encourage people to play the Davis Cup and Fed Cup,” Miley told Ubitennis.
“I don’t think it is unfair for the ITF to say you have to play a certain amount of Davis or Fed Cup ties to qualify.’
“The ATP can say these are mandatory events you have to play. So why can’t the ITF say in order to play the Olympics you have to meet certain requirements?
“Asking players to play in the Davis or Fed Cup a couple of times within four years isn’t too much.”
Critics could argue that if this policy was removed, more big names would be attracted to play in the Olympics. However, Miley points out that this isn’t the issue with the four-year extravaganza. It is with those less developed tennis nations.
“I believe the problem with the Olympic Games right now is that many nations currently don’t feel that they have a chance of qualifying and as a result, they don’t get any assistance from their Olympic committee.”
To combat this issue Miley, who is a former player himself, wants to resurrect the qualifying tournaments. Something that was used for both the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Tennis competitions.
“If there was a qualifying tournament taking place with 64 men and women a couple of months before for maybe six places. This would be a way of involving more nations into the Olympic movement.” He explained.
“Of course you need to work with the IOC, ATP, and WTA. We need to find a way for more players to feel like they have a chance.”
Big money, tough control
A key figure within the ITF for 25 years, the Irish-born candidate has big ambitions. His aim as president is to double the value of The Global Tennis Market within a decade. Its current worth is in the range of $22.5 billion, according to Miley’s election manifesto. The idea is then more money can be given to federations in order to grow.
On paper, it sounds like a simple idea. However, how can Miley guarantee that any potential surge in money issued to nations will be distributed to the appropriate areas?
“You can’t micromanage from the ITF what happens at national associations.” He admits.
“What you can do is try to facilitate good practice. If you see countries where they are doing a good job like Norway, Canada, and Australia. They are increasing participation and having good results. We need to share that.”
In order for this to happen, one idea is to issue tougher rules concerning what Federations do. Although the governing body of tennis will never have enough power to control what happens completely.
“The ITF needs to give strong guidelines about the practice for federations to develop tennis in their own countries, but it is up to the federation to do it.”
Building trust and a future
Some would question why anybody would want to take over at the ITF after what has been a turbulent past few months. In January the ITF Transition Tour was launched with an estimated value of $2 million being spent on research etc. It wasn’t long before players and coaches, including Toni Nadal and Magnus Norman, erupted with anger. Posting videos calling for the changes to be removed as an online petition attracted thousands of signatures. Six months later, the ITF backed down.
“What happened with the transition tour was that there was a lack of respect with (the lower level) players. I was one of those players and you need to respect these people have a right to play. I believe we can find a way to involve the top coaches in order to make the pathway more effective.”
There is undoubtedly a trust issue that has arisen. Especially concerning the lower ranked players. There will be no easy solution, but one suggestion is the creation of a player council. Following in the footsteps of both the ATP and WTA. Quite a risky idea given the political turmoil that continues to affect the men’s game.
“I want to set up an ITF player council which has current players. 12 players from both singles and doubles who meet up twice a year during the practice week of a grand slam.” He outlies.
“At the same time at the entry level, we need to send people to places such as Egypt and start listening and talking with players. That is how you get the trust back.”
One of the most striking facts from Miley concerned tennis participation in America. During the era of the Williams sisters, nearly 8 million fewer people played tennis in 2016 than in 2009. Falling from 24 million to 16.7 million. So how does Miley plan to turn this around?
In his opinion, it lies with fitting in with the present. Formats such as Fast 4 or Tie Break Tens are ones he thinks could be a solution. Shorter matches to fit in with people having less time in their everyday lives.
“Lifestyles are changing, especially in the developed market. So when lifestyles change, you need to adapt the product. For example people with less free time, you need to implement formats that are punchier.” Miley argues.
“The job for the future is to adapt competitions and caching to the lifestyles. At the professional level, we need to be conscious of the customer and be ready to adapt.’
“I like what the ATP has done with the Next Gen in Milan. They are experimenting a bit. At the same time, we need to protect the integrity of the sport.”
The election for the ITF presidency will take place in September. During that time Miley has vowed to travel to 45 countries. Quite an ambitious target, but one he is committed to.
Regardless of if he wins or now, few will ever question Miley’s commitment to tennis.
The Ilkley Trophy Celebrates Five-Year Landmark And Is Ready For A Bigger Event
Ubitennis speaks with tournament director Charlie Maunder about the the goals and future aspirations of the British tennis tournament.
The Ilkley Trophy has celebrated this year the fifth edition of the Challenger Tournament combined with a women’s ITF World Tour 1000 event with another successful event that has brought to Yorkshire a number of world-class tennis players looking to conquer the winner’s prize that comprises a highly coveted main draw wild card for the Wimbledon Championships. This year’s winners, Dominik Koepfer and Monica Niculescu, secured the ultimate award at the end of two entertaining three-set finals played in front of a sold-out crowd that has taken advantage of a very fortunate week of weather to enjoy some fine tennis.
Created in 2014 contextually to the extension of the grass court “season” from two weeks to three weeks, the Ilkley Trophy has gone from strength to strength, steadily growing year after year to establish itself not only as the most important grass court tournament in the Challenger circuit, but also as a marquee event in Yorkshire’s summer calendar. The organizing committee, led by the Manager of the Ilkley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club, Charlie Maunder, who also doubles up as Tournament Director, has managed to create a really unique atmosphere that everyone seems to enjoy.
Before the final day of the tournament, we have managed to spend a few minutes with Charlie (everyone calls him this way), who we have been told is not too comfortable with media, preferring to let his work speak for himself, but in this case he was kind enough to talk to us. Or he was just cornered by his fellow team members and given no choice… we will never know.
How do you think this edition went?
This is the best year we have had. And so far, we have been able to say it every year, each year we have jumped up a couple of steps. This year has been a lot smoother, with a lot less stress. All the organization, all the contingencies, everything worked well, the team has done it before, we have a lot of familiar faces. The courts held up really well, where we are sitting now [just behind Centre Court] just 12 weeks ago was under water because of a flood, so it has been a tough preparation that required us to remain focused all the way through. The feedback I have received is very positive: players, officers, spectators, everyone seems to have had a great time, we have created a real atmosphere around the event.
What kind of resources is the club dedicating to the organization of this event?
There is a small team of club employees, two-three of us, who work at setting up the tournaments, with the cooperation of the volunteers who make up most of the operations team. We meet once a month throughout the year to coordinate our efforts, but most of all we have managed to put together a really great team of volunteers that come back year after year, 150 to 200 volunteers between club members, students coming back from university, the all swarm us every year to meet the demands of organizing this event. Without volunteers it would be impossible for us to deliver what we deliver, so credit to these people.
How many spectators will you have this week?
We will have something between 13,000 to 15,000 spectators. We have been sold out Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tuesday was also a big day, after a wet Monday, Paul Jubb helped us draw a big crowd on Centre Court on a weekday, so numbers are fantastic.
Do you benchmark yourselves against other tournaments, either Challengers or higher-level events, both in the UK or overseas?
No, not really. We looked around to learn a few things, but we just try to be Ilkley as best as we can be. We put on a festival for the members, we try our best to give the players the best experience we can offer. When you try to be someone else, I believe you set yourself up for failure, we just want to be quite unique, and I think we have achieved that: the buzz and the atmosphere around here is quite different.
This event is at the highest possible level in the ATP Challenger Tour and at the highest possible level in the Women’s ITF World Tour: is there any appetite to go further?
We are the new kid on the block, we are here, we are delivering and we want to push ourselves to go wherever this might take us. It’s a fine balance because we are at a level that the members of our club really enjoy: I am both the Tournament Director and the Club Manager and at the moment I have a very good control of the event, and we like that. We are open to challenge ourselves and try something bigger, we like the combined event, and we wouldn’t say no should the opportunity present itself.
There is a week “for sale” on the ATP Tour at the moment: it would be the week after your current slot. Are you aware of it?
Yes, I am.
Have you thought about applying?
The next week is a tough week because it’s the week immediately before Wimbledon and it is at the same time as the Wimbledon ‘qualies’. We need to be aware of the amount of tennis that we would have with that new date compared to what we have now: the two ‘Challengers’ we are hosting now showcase great tennis players, there is the romance of a potential wild card for Wimbledon. You have to be sure what you give up, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but we could do that as well: I am not afraid to do a back to back!
Have you thought of organizing other events throughout the year?
We have looked at different things, but the nature of the club is a members’ club, it’s key that we don’t take too much time away from the members and their ability to play on their courts. We have to be careful not to turn this facility into just a tournament venue, because our members and their families need to come first.
But the two things should not necessarily be mutually exclusive. Everybody in the world of tennis knows that Alexander Zverev loves Yorkshire and Yorkshire’s accent: the videos of him interacting with Johanthan Pinfield at Roland Garros have become viral. Have you thought of organizing and event to get him up here, or any other player for that matter?
We do need to look at how we attract the bigger names, it’s something we are missing out a little bit. Of course, we get wild card request, normally they go to the Brits [through the LTA]: potentially it would be nice to have a ‘club wild card’, an invite we can dispose of at our leisure so that we can attract a player that maybe hasn’t gotten in at Queen’s or wants to play a bit more on grass.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced this year?
Nothing major, nothing detrimental. I believe the big improvement we need to look into is how we would handle the eventuality of playing the final rounds indoor, should the weather not cooperate. At the moment we have no facilities to host spectators in our indoor courts, and we don’t really have a way to easily accommodate 800-900 people, so this is one aspect that we will need to improve for the next editions.
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