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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Devotion to details distinguishes Grand Slam champions from contenders.

A passion for practice is the key quality that connects Coco Gauff and Rafael Nadal, says coach Brad Gilbert.

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The constant quest for game improvement and Gauff's practice intensity is reminiscent of Rafa, says ESPN analyst Gilbert, who previously coached Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray.

"Every player I’ve worked with has worked really hard,” Gilbert told ESPN’s Chris McKendry. “But Coco is unbelievably special in her work ethic.

“She is a little bit like a Rafa. For a match, she doesn’t have a light shootaround. Her light shootaround is going full at it. She really wants to get better and she puts in the hard yards.

"There’s not any stone she left unturned this offseason. She loves the work and she demands a lot from herself. She wants to get better. She’s a great player to work with, great attitude.”

Tennis Express

Of course, that doesn't mean Gauff will go on to win 22 Grand Slam championships as Nadal has done—though Gauff did share her long-term goal is to win double-digit majors during her pre-tournament presser—but her commitment to the cause is clear.

US Open champion Gauff and Gilbert spent time working with ace master Andy Roddick in the offseason in an effort to lower her ball toss, streamline her serve a bit and use her explosiveness.

Those efforts paid off as Gauff opened 2024 defeating Elina Svitolina to successfully defend her Auckland title.

In a past interview with Tennis Now, Toni Nadal, Rafa Nadal's uncle and original coach, cited the king of clay's constant commitment to improvement and his die-hard practice intensity as keys to his success.

“When you lose, there’s only one way to go and that’s train harder," Toni Nadal told Tennis Now. "I was lucky enough to train a guy who was excited every single day for practice as he was before a final.”

Gilbert's ESPN and coaching colleague, Darren Cahill, who is co-coach of Jannik Sinner alongside Simone Vagnozzi, also applied Nadal's disciplined practice sessions as teaching tools.

When Cahill coached Simona Halep to the world No. 1 ranking they would often go watch Nadal's practice sessions together drawing inspiration from his devotion.

Winning Ugly author Gilbert has also encouraged Gauff to downsize her workload. Gilbert nixed Grand Slam mixed doubles for Gauff, though hopefully we'll see her play all three disciplines at the Paris Olympics this summer, and suggests her doubles days at majors may come to an end soon.

"I put the kibosh on mixed. No more mixed," Gilbert said on ESPN. "Hopefully there will be some Slams where it’s only singles not even doubles.

"I know that’s to the chagrin of some people, but sometimes you’ve got to be selfish and focus on what’s most important. In Coco’s case, right now, it's winning majors in singles."