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How are Roland Garros finalists Casper Ruud and Coco Gauff faring a year later?


You’re probably already aware of the proverb that staying at the top is harder than getting there.

How about almost arriving? Ask Coco Gauff and Casper Ruud, the 2018 Roland Garros singles finalists, that question.

The 19-year-old Gauff has established herself as a dangerous rival while still being in her teen years. She has been a professional for five years and is developing a flexible all-court tennis style. Gauff routinely plays doubles, is proficient in all areas of the court, and possesses a volleying technique that is uncommon among modern professionals. This is one of the main causes. Gauff, who is ranked sixth in the WTA singles standings, is third in the doubles rankings. Gauff and Jessica Pegula, who played doubles with her, advanced to the finals in Madrid and Rome in May.

Gauff has a 3-3 singles match record on European clay courts this year. However, in 2022, it was 4-3 shortly before she went on a six-match winning streak at Roland Garros. Gauff, who is ranked No. 24, suffered losses to players in all three of his games this year. In Stuttgart, Anastasia Potapova is ranked No. 1, Paula Badosa is No. 42, and Marie Bouzkova is No. 38.

Gauff acknowledged, “It was a tough loss for me,” when asked about the Badosa encounter a week later in Rome. You probably noticed that it simply wasn’t my day, my game, or how I like to carry myself when playing on the court. Since then, I’ve been putting in a lot of effort.

Gauff also acknowledged that it has been challenging to adjust to life without Diego Moyano as her coach (it was a cordial breakup; Moyano left for personal reasons). This spring, Gauff has been working out with Jarmere Jenkins, a former hitting partner of Serena Williams, in addition to being trained by her father, Corey. Gauff declared, “He’s helping me out, more so in the capacity of a hitting partner. Obviously offering me suggestions from time to time. He has therefore been excellent.

According to numerous rumors, Gauff could be tutored by Rick Macci, who has worked with celebrities like Jennifer Capriati and the Williams sisters. Macci informed me after analyzing Gauff’s performance, “Her backhand is money in the bank. One of the best serves on the tour belongs to her. She has good volley. However, Macci wants to develop an immersion course to focus on Gauff’s forehand rather than traveling with him every week. This will take place two months after competition, either in the middle of the year or, more likely, after the end of the season in November and December. Macci stated, “I could make this her best effort.”

Gauff recently commented, “I do think tennis is a unique sport in that aspect,” when asked about her hunt for a new coach. I don’t know how it works, but I have the impression that in basketball and other sports, a lot more people are involved before the players themselves. I’m not sure how much of a say the players have in that, but in tennis you very much have complete control over who you bring on. Undoubtedly, it’s a different procedure from what I’m used to. I feel like I’m more involved now that I’m older.

Gauff made his Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros last year before losing handily in the championship match.
Gauff made his Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros last year before losing handily in the championship match.

Though it’s unclear when Gauff will hire a new coach, Roland Garros is a pressing issue. Additionally, Gauff’s ability to play outstanding tennis in high-stakes situations has been clear throughout her entire career. Jose Higueras, a former pro and USTA instructor, said of the player, “She’s a good competitor.” “Clay will assist with her forehand as well. Because she has a bit more time, nobody should rush her.

Gauff’s tennis on all surfaces has a very seamless link, but 2023 has gone differently for Ruud. The 24-year-old Norwegian’s match record from January through March, when he only played on hardcourts, was 5-6. In Rome earlier this month, Ruud observed, “This year has not gotten off to the best of starts. “I have a lot of points and tournaments to try and catch up on.”

But as soon as he got to Europe for the clay court season, Ruud started to play better. Ruud began his title run in Estoril at the beginning of April, kicking off his clay season. His tenth ATP Tour singles victory—nine of which came on clay—was that one.

Could Ruud make the decisive move in Paris without Rafa this year?

Ruud reached the semifinals at the Masters 1000 tournament in Rome last week by playing his usual style of reliable, baseline-based tennis. He moves well and consistently, according to Higueras. Ruud has not, however, defeated a player who is ranked inside the Top 30 this year. Ruud was up a set and a break against seventh-ranked Holger Rune in the Rome semifinals before dropping the match.

I guess it’s tennis, Ruud stated after the match. “Sure, I had the lead and thought the finish line was in sight, but in the end, it wasn’t. Holger hurt his back. I made a few blunders and played several awful strokes. That’s how things work.

As both Gauff and Ruud have shown, tennis is an inexact art form, and the development of a playing style is no exception. Numerous elements come into play, including physical characteristics, family history, the presence of nearby coaches, and the parental role—in Ruud’s case, a former ATP professional—among others.

Of course, there is also the issue of attitude and the player’s assessment of what has already happened. The problem is, once you’ve done something, like make it to a Grand Slam final, you know it can happen again because you were able to do it before, so why not again?, remarked Ruud last week.

Perhaps. Gauff and Ruud, however, also harbor the prospect of going even further.

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