Forget the fact that Coco Gauff was not yet of this planet when Roger Federer won his first major title on the lawns of the All England Club back in 2003.
The 17-year-old says the Swiss legend has played a major role in her career, if not from a style standpoint, from the way he carries himself.
“He’s probably one of the most influential players ever,” said Gauff, who burst onto the scene in 2019 when she reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon in her main-draw debut, defeating another one of her other role models, Venus Williams, along the way. “We all know he’s the greatest on and off the court. Just the way he’s influenced the game in how to act, how to respond to the media and how you handle yourself is something that I try to model myself after.”
Gauff remembers meeting him for the first time. She was 13, playing in the junior draw at Wimbledon, where Federer has won a record eight singles titles.
“He’s a great guy,” she added. “I’ve gotten the chance to speak to him a couple of times. He’s always been a great support for me. Honestly, there aren’t enough words — I don’t think anybody has one bad thing to say about Roger Federer. He’s one of the greatest athletes, players and people — forget the tennis, just in general.”
Gauff is making her BNP Paribas Open debut this week with plenty of motivation. Indian Wells, after all, has proven to be a launching point for young players. Maria Sharapova was 18 when she captured the title in 2006, the same year she won the US Open. Naomi Osaka broke through in 2018 at the age of 20, grabbing her first major that summer in Flushing Meadows. Bianca Andreescu was the last teenager to win the title here, in 2019 at the age of 18. She, of course, went on to win the US Open that year, too.
Gauff will likely be spurred on, too, by the most recent championship match at the US Open, which featured two teens (18-year-old Emma Raducanu and 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez) for the first time in more than two decades.
“It was definitely inspiring for me, especially since I’m younger than both of them,” said Gauff. “It just shows how much a year makes a difference, and what I can hopefully do next year. It was just great to see two competitors who just love the game. They weren’t in the media so much before the tournament. You would think they’ve been on this stage for 20 or 30 years. It gave me a little bit of fire to believe that I can do it, too.”
Following a first-round bye, the 15th-seeded Gauff will open against Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia on Saturday, in what will be a first-time encounter. The Floridian is also teaming with Fernandez in doubles in the desert.