Coco Gauff was not even sure if she would play at the Adelaide International.
Now, the 16-year-old rising star is through to the quarterfinals after winning four straight matches at Memorial Drive.
Gauff upset sixth seed Petra Martic in three sets on Wednesday to advance to the last eight, where she will take on countrywoman Shelby Rogers.
And incredibly, her win over world No.21 Martic is just her fifth best in terms of opponent’s ranking; the teenaged talent has already notched victories over four top-15 players, including two in the top 10.
“I believe I can win, but not really necessarily expecting to, I guess,” she told adelaideinternational.com about her mentality against higher-ranked opponents.
“When I play bigger players, I just try to treat it like any other match. And just I knew today that I had nothing to lose and she probably would feel the pressure a little bit more than I would because I’m a lower-ranked player and younger than her.
“But I just went out there playing free and just went for my shots.”
The result sent Gauff through to her third WTA-level quarterfinal, following Linz in 2019 – where she went on to win the title – and Lexington in 2020, where she was an eventual semifinalist.
An exploding profile
They are technically “better” results than her fourth-round runs at Wimbledon 2019 and Australian Open 2020, but it was those Slam results which vaulted Gauff onto the international stage and justified the hype that had begun to build following her impressive junior career.
“Coco-mania” accompanied her Wimbledon run two years ago, where her matches drew huge ratings on the BBC and the crowds at the All England Club were whipped into a frenzy during her third-round win on Centre Court over Polona Hercog.
Gauff says she feels that hysteria has since calmed down.
“When I first burst out, I guess a lot of people were expecting me to win like every match,” she recalled. “And that whole year (in 2019) was actually … my first time ever being at that tournament ever.
“A lot of people expected me to just come out and win straight away, which was good. I was hoping to do that. But I feel like now I mean, I don’t really focus too much on the media. I just try to stay in my own world, I guess.”
That world is now Australia, where Gauff will have spent almost six weeks when her time in Adelaide eventually draws to a close.
Strong Australian swing
The world No.52 was initially unsure if she would play the WTA 500 event – held this year, unusually, after the Australian Open – and actually entered the tournament after the deadline, meaning she was forced to enter the qualifying draw.
But it meant she could spend more time in a country she loves before returning to “bubble life”.
After getting past Francesca Jones and Kaja Juvan, she beat Jasmine Paolini in the first round of the main draw before her victory over Martic.
It has continued a productive period Down Under, during which she believes she has learned a great deal to take with her on her career path.
“I have fought my hardest. And I mean, I lost some of them, didn’t go the way that I wanted to, but I still learned a lot from this swing,” said Gauff, who fell in the second round at AO 2021 to Elina Svitolina.
“Especially mentally. I mean, three three-set matches back to back (here in Adelaide). Mentally, I fought for every point and this is how I was able to come out with the win.
“I think it’s just proving that if I continue to fight, no matter how bad this situation looks, I’m not always going to win, but that if I keep fighting, I have a better chance of winning.”
Continuing to build
Gauff has always had admirable fighting spirit and competitive instincts.
Coupled with significant gains technically and tactically, she is becoming a more fully-rounded force.
“I definitely feel like I’ve improved, especially with the serve. Like I definitely served a lot more wide at (Wimbledon 2019) than I do now. So like now I serve more pretty even,” she explained.
“(Back then) I was winning matches really just solely on playing, not so much focusing on strategy. And I feel like now I’m definitely watching tennis more and paying attention to what my opponent is doing more, whereas then … I didn’t really go into the to the match of much of a plan, to be honest.”
Despite being just 16 years old, if feels, incredibly, that Gauff’s progression to the quarterfinals of a prestigious WTA tournament is somewhat unsurprising.
But it is not that way for Gauff, who last year famously said: “Honestly, like, what is my life?” after stunning defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round at Melbourne Park in 2020.
“I guess I still feel like that,” Gauff replied when asked about that statement.
“Ever since I was a girl, I dreamed about being on tour and playing tournaments and making quarterfinals. And it’s still crazy to me that I’m even here, especially now like during a pandemic.
“I’m just happy to play. I’m happy to be able to travel I know other people would do a lot of things to be in the position where I am.
“I just try to be grateful for every second of it.”