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Navratilova: Coco Gauff's Potential Limitless

By Richard Pagliaro

Coco Gauff's
ceiling is sky high says former world No. 1 Martina Navratilova.

Hall of Famer Navratilova was asked to assess Gauff's game during a conference call with the media to promote Tennis Channel's Miami Open coverage. For the first time in its almost 18-year history, Tennis Channel will be the exclusive home of the Miami Open. The network’s telecast will take viewers from first ball March 23 to championship point April 4. Navratilova, a long-time TC analyst, will be broadcasting on-site in Miami.

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The 18-time Grand Slam singles champion said the 17-year-old Gauff has limitless potential if she can sharpen some technical issues on her serve and forehand and impose her all-court skills.

"Technically, she has to work on that forehand and get it a little more pace on it. The ball is rolling a little too much," Navratilova said. "But she's a fantastic athlete. She moves great, she has a nose for the ball. She moves forward really well just as well as she does side to side.

"Transition game, she can improve a little bit. But at net she likes to be there. So I'm looking forward to seeing her. I know she's going to be serving-and-volleying here somewhere, she's got the grit for it. Her game, there's no limit, literally, so I'm looking forward to seeing her evolve and improve."

Two years ago, Gauff earned her first career WTA win at the Miami Open.

In a clash of talented young American wild cards, Gauff rallied from 2-4 down in the decisive set to edge Caty McNally, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, in a Miami Open opener before a packed Court 5 crowd that included U.S. Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi, Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach, Roger Federer's agent, Tony Godsick, and veteran coach Sven Groeneveld, who previously coached Maria Sharapova.

“I still don't believe that I won,” a smiling Gauff said afterward. “This is a dream, like, I have been dreaming of this moment for years, just playing in the Miami Open. And I have been coming to this tournament since I was eight or nine years old.

"Watching the players here and actually being in the same tournament, being in the same area as players that I've watched since practically I was born, it's so surreal to me.”

Since her maiden Tour-level win, Gauff has reached the round of 16 at the 2019 Wimbledon and the 2020 Australian Open where she knocked off Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka and pushed eventual-champion Sofia Kenin to three sets.

Though Gauff's game has shown some growing pains—her toss can stray and second serve can wilt under stress and opponents can play low and wide to try to coax short, spinny replies from her western-grip forehand—the Delray Beach-born teenager has displayed great grit and a spirit for the battle posting a 7-2 record in three-setters this season.

Tennis Express

Legendary left-hander Navratilova says Gauff's blazing competitive intensity reminds her a bit of herself in her younger years and notes energy is like fire—if you channel it wisely it can fuel you, but left unchecked it can consume you.

"She's 17, you know? She's just such a fierce competitor," Navratilova said of Gauff. "I hope she learns to channel that emotion so she doesn't exhaust herself. I feel her because I used to be very emotional on the court and I learned to harness it and control it and use it to my advantage.

"Because when you're young you have that much more energy so you don't have to worry about saving it. But long term I think she's so in it that maybe she sometimes runs out a little bit. Nice problem: too much emotion you can always control it. That's not to say it's getting in the way, but I feel like she's using a lot of energy that she could save for the match sometimes."

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve