When 19 makes you the veteran player at the US Open
By Lola Fadulu
As Coco Gauff and Mirra Andreeva faced off at the U.S. Open on Wednesday, fans in the stands remarked about how old — really how young — they were while competing at the top of their sport.
Gauff, who at 19 is not much older than the 16-year-old Andreeva, has for several years been a household name in tennis, ever since she made a run to the fourth round of Wimbledon in 2019. Her growing stardom means that she often finds herself playing in featured matches at the U.S. Open, in front of the most fans in person and in choice television slots.
On Wednesday, that was in a 6-3, 6-2 win over Andreeva at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the New York borough of Queens, playing before Novak Djokovic. It was a matchup, and a moment, that Gauff, a sixth-seeded American, controlled with ease while keeping a breezy but brisk pace.
Some of her confidence, Gauff acknowledged, comes with experience. When asked on the court what she had learned in the past three years, Gauff said that when she was 16, she played every match as if it were “life or death.”
“You still have to allow yourself time to make mistakes,” she said. “And the losses, as long as you learn from them, are OK.”
Andreeva, an unseeded Russian, said after the match that she hadn’t gotten much advice from older players on tour yet but that she was eager for their wisdom: “I will always listen to them.”
Andreeva played in her first tour event this year and has shown some youthful struggles in maintaining her composure on the court. In her last match against Gauff, at the French Open in the round of 32, she hit a ball into the stands, striking a spectator. She received a code violation and acknowledged that she could have been disqualified, calling it a “really stupid move.” She was also fined $8,000 at Wimbledon for unsportsmanlike conduct after throwing a racket, arguing and refusing to shake hands with the chair umpire.
Andreeva has defended herself by saying that Roger Federer had outbursts when he was young, too, echoing an argument that other players, like Serena Williams, have made about whether women’s players and men’s players receive similar scrutiny for their conduct.
Gauff, who has often been complimented for her composure, said this week that she debated whether to complain during her opening-round match against Laura Siegemund about the pace of play, with Siegemund often pushing the serve clock to its limits.
“I really don’t like confrontation all that much,” Gauff said in her postmatch media interview Monday. She said she had been thinking about the delays the whole match. “I wasn’t sure if I was in the right or not until it happened multiple times,” she said, but she reached a point of frustration and felt the need to speak up to the chair umpire.
“I try my best not to let my emotions to take over myself,” she said.
Gauff pledged before her second-round match not to be flustered by her opponent this time and to ignore age — her own and Andreeva’s. “She has her ranking, and that’s all that matters,” Gauff said before their match.
Instead, their youthfulness played out in the form of athleticism as they traded long, sprinting rallies from the baseline and as Gauff found openings to inch forward and finish points.
One rally in the second set lasted 30 shots and ended with Gauff expertly handling a drop shot from Andreeva with a backhand approach shot for a winner. She celebrated that point by urging the crowd to cheer, a request fans quickly obliged.
By then, it was clear that Gauff and Andreeva have had no trouble reaching young fans.
“It’s amazing that they are so young and they have this amazing skill and talent to just be here and play on that court,” said David Keating, 10, as his father applied sunscreen to him and his twin brother, Michael.
Eve Maulshagen, who started playing tennis three years ago and just made her high school team in Central New Jersey, said in the main plaza at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center that she liked the idea that someone at 16 could be playing in front of so many people on TV. “That’ll be me in a year when I’m 16 — but not like a pro,” she said with a laugh.
Gauff has been trying to ignore age as a factor during her matches. On Friday, she will play Elise Mertens, a 27-year-old from Belgium, in the third round. They have played twice, and Gauff won both matches, most recently during the French Open in 2022 in the round of 16.
“I want to maintain a long career,” Gauff said during her on-court interview Wednesday. “I have to really have fun on the court, and I think I’m having fun with the wins and losses.”