Tennis

How the U.S. Open Is Bending the Rules for Coco Gauff

Coco Gauff

The U.S. Open is an annual tradition in late August and early September, as the fourth and final Grand Slam tournament on the tennis calendar. As it’s the only Grand Slam that takes place on American soil, it is a tournament that American tennis players really want to win.

On the women’s side, one of the rising stars is 15-year-old Florida native Cori “Coco” Gauff, who is hoping to make a deep run in her home country’s Grand Slam. However, tournament organizers have had to bend the rules in order to get her in the field.

Coco Gauff’s early career

Gauff’s professional career began in May 2018 on the ITF women’s circuit. She won her first professional match. She received a wildcard spot into qualifying for that year’s U.S. Open, but she lost her first match and didn’t make it into the main tournament.

She did, however, make it to the second round in the mixed doubles event at the 2018 U.S. Open. She has already competed in two of the first three Grand Slams this year; she lost in the first round of women’s doubles at the French Open, but she had her breakout performance at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon success

Wimbledon is considered by many to be the top tennis tournament on the circuit so playing at the event is a big deal, especially for a teenager like Coco Gauff who is in the early stages of her career.

She had a tough draw in the first round, taking on five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams — who, along with sister Serena, was one of Gauff’s inspirations for playing tennis. Gauff won the match against her idol in straight sets (6-4, 6-4) to become the youngest woman to win a Wimbledon match since 1991.

Gauff continued on to win two more matches before falling to seventh-seed Simona Halep, who went on to win the tournament, in the fourth round. That performance helped put Gauff on tennis fans’ radar.

A partially disappointing Citi Open

Coco Gauff’s next tournament after Wimbledon was the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., which was meant to serve as a warm-up for the U.S. Open since it takes place just a few weeks earlier.

Gauff playing in the tournament was such a big deal that tournament organizers issued a press release proclaiming “Coco coming to D.C.!” as the headline. She couldn’t follow up the success she had in England, though, as she lost to first-round opponent Zarina Diyas in straight sets (4-6, 2-6). She did better in the doubles event, teaming with fellow American teen Caty McNally to win the women’s double event.

USTA bending the rules for Coco Gauff?

The USTA puts on the U.S. Open, and the organization is planning on bending the rules to allow Coco Gauff to play in the event. In 1994, the WTA implemented a rule that 15-year-olds can only play in 10 tournaments per year to avoid getting burned out by competing too much.

U.S. Open officials are reportedly planning to “bend the rules” to allow Gauff to enter the tournament. USTA director of communications Chris Widmaier has told the New York Post that the USTA “would expect to see Coco in the main draw of the US Open.”

He further stated that he believes the U.S. Open will be “exempt” from the WTA’s age rule because, Widmaier argues, being a Grand Slam the tournament “reserves the right to not align with the Age Eligibility Rule and offer a player a Wild Card in excess of her limit per the Age Eligibility Rule.” Gauff has already accepted her limit of three Wild Cards for the year, at the Miami Open and qualifiers for the French Open and Wimbledon.