Teen Tennis Star Coco Gauff on #Nails, Pei Wei, and the Funny Thing About Fame

At Baha Mar in The Bahamas, Gauff helped raise more than $100,000 for Hurricane Dorian relief.

Courtesy of Getty Images

Cori “Coco” Gauff—the 15-year old rising tennis star from Delray Beach, Florida—has this thing with time.

In her day-to-day life, she is, by her own admission, not great at managing it. “I’m always late,” she says while laughing, standing at the Racquet Club at the Baha Mar resort in Nassau, The Bahamas.

Gauff—visiting with her parents, Candi and Corey, and her friend Jamilah—is on site to participate in an event to raise money for Hurricane Dorian relief. (The storm spared Nassau, but devastated the northern Bahamian territories of Abaco and Grand Bahama Island). The “Baha Mar Cup” also drew names like Andy Roddick and Tommy Haas; Coco, though, was the headliner. Over $100,000 in donations were brought in.

Back to the temporal: in her professional life, Gauff seems to be an expert when it comes to timing.

For her age, she is remarkably, prodigiously poised. What other fifteen year old loses a match at Arthur Ashe Stadium during the U.S. Open—as Gauff did to the world number 1 player at the time, Naomi Osaka, this past summer—only to give a heartfelt, considered, emotional-but-not-out-of-control post-match interview? (Actually, none right now, because there is no one her age competing at her level.) Her tennis game is powerful and precise—and her serving is strong, which is the hardest shot in the game to time. And, being as young as she is, her playing window seems limitless; if she sticks with it and ascends upward, her name will likely be in the headlines for not only years but decades to come.

2019 was Gauff’s breakout year. She first made waves when she beat Venus Williams—who, along with her sister Serena, inspired Gauff to commit to tennis—at Wimbledon. She then quickly became a crowd favorite at the U.S. Open, reaching the third round before losing to Osaka. Osaka, 22, is also hugely respected for her humility; she was the one who invited and convinced Gauff to speak to the crowd after they played.

And then, the unexpected: Gauff won her first WTA Tour title at the Linz Open in Austria. It was a surprise, given that Gauff had already lost to Tamara Korpatsch, but was able to re-enter the tournament thanks to another player’s withdrawal. She is the youngest woman to do so since 2004.

“I got in as a ‘lucky loser.’ It wasn’t in my plan to win a title this year,” says Gauff. “It was a confidence booster, because I didn’t really have anything to my name, at that point.”

It’s a modest statement, given that Gauff had previously won two WTA doubles tournaments with her playing partner Caty McNally, and is a former junior world number one. But it’s not only that: by summer’s end, she had garnered a legion of fans. It took only a few months to happen: Coco Gauff is the sport’s newest celebrity, and arguably its most exciting and charismatic.

Before her tennis expo at Baha Mar—and during the off-season, before the Australian Open approaches in January—Gauff sounds off on her still-fresh fame, the TV shows she binges (Stranger Things is on the list), and trying to stay on time.

Just recently, Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou—whose tennis academy you have trained at—said that he believes a key to your success is how quickly you’re able to learn. Do you agree?

It depends on what it is. I can be stubborn, sometimes, but once I become open-minded, I think I do pick up on things quickly. My Dad will tell me something, but he won’t make me do it. I have to learn on my own when something is not working, and then, once that happens, I adapt quickly. He kind of guides, then when I finally decide to be open-minded, we see the results.

What has changed the most since this past season?

Traveling. I’ve traveled a lot more than ever this year. I love competing, and I love doing what I do. It’s not that complicated. I don’t feel like I am missing out on much otherwise, and people sometimes assume that I do miss out. But, on weekends like this, I’m here with my friend, or there are weekends when I am home and I try to do as much as I can. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.

What about when it comes to fame? Have there been any especially surreal moments?

Even here at Baha Mar! I didn’t think people would recognize me here. Normally, so far, people only know who I am when I am in my tennis clothes. Sometimes when I am off at the mall, too, but mainly not. But today I met a lady on the beach. She was so speechless for a few seconds. She was shaking, she couldn’t figure out the password to her phone because she said her brain kind of slowed down a little. She was super, super nice. It’s crazy, and I can relate. I’m always like, I don’t know why people react like that towards me, but then I realize I do the same to other people.

(Gauff is a huge fan of Jaden Smith’s, and has made a reaction video to his and other celebrities engaging with her on social media—in the clip, she is seen falling over, on a couch, in gleeful disbelief.)

What’s the first thing you read in the morning?

It has to be the time. Yeah, because I’m always late. I’m trying!

How do you get your news?

When I am home, I watch Good Morning America, with my Mom and Dad and brothers. I also have the CNN app on my phone. But you end up getting a lot of news from social media.

Speaking of social media, what accounts are you into right now?

I’ve been into nail inspiration feeds! I’ve been trying to get fancier with my nails. Honestly, I just click hashtag nails, then scroll through.

What about TV shows? Anything you’ve binged lately?

All American, Stranger Things and Black Lightning.

What’s the last thing you Googled on your phone?

Ooohhh… let me look.

(Gauff laughs)

‘What time does Pei Wei close?’ I went to eat at Pei Wei in Florida, the night before we left.

Last song you had stuck in your head?

Yellow Hearts! By Ant Saunders. It’s a new song.

What about the last concert you went to?

It was a Jaden Smith and Tyler, the Creator concert. We met. Backstage. That was really cool. I didn’t think we were doing that.

Are you into astrology?

Oh, no… no.

What is the last thing you do at night before going to sleep?

Set my alarm. Sorry, alarms.

At the Baha Mar Tennis Cup kids clinic in Nassau, Bahamas.

Disha Fraser