US OPEN 2019: SHOULD COCO GAUFF BE GRANTED A MAIN DRAW WILD CARD?

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coco gauff at us open
Brian Lutz / July 23, 2019

COCO GAUFF WILD CARD DECISION

Should the United States Tennis Association bend the rules and grant a special exemption Wild Card to the 2019 US Open? The Women’s Tennis Association rules states that 15 year olds can only have 3 Wild Cards along with a finite amount of tournaments a year to ease them into professional tennis circuit. What do you think? Leave us your feedback below.

Two Cautionary Tales Of Young Stars Who Fell Hard After Early Success.  The first (Melanie Oudin) was mental and emotional. The second and most recent is (Ceci Bellis) was physical and emotional.

PODCAST FOR TENNIS PLAYERS AND PROS: FIND YOUR AHA MOMENT 

MELANIE OUDIN / 2009

Melanie Oudin had a similar pathway to Coco Gauff a decade ago and is now retired from tennis because of  a culmination of anxiety, pressure, expectations and injury (Wikipedia)

An excerpt from Wikipedia:

Oudin turned pro in 2008. In April 2008, She received a wild card at the WTA tournament in Miami where she lost in the first round to Tathiana Garbin in three sets. In August, Oudin received a wild card into her first Grand Slam main draw at the US Open. She was defeated by Australian Jessica Moore 7–6, 7–6.

In October that year, Oudin participated in the Bell Challenge in Quebec City. In the first round, she defeated third seed Sybille Bammer. In the second round, she defeated Olga Puchkova in two sets. Reaching her first WTA quarterfinal, she was defeated by sixth seed Bethanie Mattek.

Oudin began 2009 by qualifying for the main draw of the Australian Open. She was then defeated in the first round by Akgul Amanmuradova in straight sets.

At the 2009 Wimbledon Championships, Oudin entered as a qualifier. She defeated No. 29 Sybille Bammer in three sets in the first round and Yaroslava Shvedova in three sets in the second. Oudin defeated also world No. 6 Jelena Janković but lost to Agnieszka Radwańska in the fourth round.

At the US Open, Oudin entered as a wild card. In her first-round match, she easily defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6–1, 6–2. In the second round, she stunned fourth-seeded Elena Dementieva in her Arthur Ashe Stadium debut. Then in the third round, she defeated a resurgent Maria Sharapova. At 17 years of age, Oudin reached the fourth round of a major event for the second consecutive time. In the fourth round, she played another Russian, 13th-seeded Nadia Petrova. She defeated Petrova to reach the quarterfinals of the event. She became the youngest woman since Serena Williams in 1999 to reach the quarterfinals at the US Open, and the youngest since Sharapova to reach the quarterfinals at a major. Her Cinderella story ended when ninth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki defeated her 6–2, 6–2. A standing ovation occurred when Oudin was leaving the court. After the US Open, Oudin’s ranking rose into the top 50, her first appearance there.

CECI BELLIS

USTA National Coach / Leo Azevedo regarding Ceci Bellis run at the 2014 US Open

“She likes this,” Azevedo said. “She likes it when people watch her. I think this is very important. The way she deals with the crowd and with the tournament, I don’t think it affects her at all.”

Ceci Bellis Played a lot of Tennis at a young age  It’s safe to say in hindsight way too much as her body and spirit have been broken with multiple surgeries and set backs from arm and elbow injuries.  I interviewed her in 2018 at the Miami Open Players Party after her first round loss to Viktoria Azarenka.  She was in a positive mind set at the time but was uncertain of what her plan was next except to head back to Orlando to reset at the USTA National Campus.

BELLIS EARNS US OPEN WILD CARD IN 2014

As a 15 years old Ceci won the 18 and under Girls National Singles Championships which grants and automatic Wild Card to the US Open.   Her handlers and media focused on the earned accomplishment and ate of the feel good story.  Her fighting spirit and forehand were her biggest assets along with her fearless youthful enthusiasm.

With an overall career record of 17-15 her senior career has never really launched as injury and frustration has played been a big part of her life at a much too young of age.  Would her development and career arch improved if she played less?  No one will no but her courageous contribution to Noah Rubin’s Behind the Racquet Instagram Page reveals a hard journey.

Cecil Bellis: For the Love of the Sport

“During a tournament in Mexico two years ago, after playing against this big hitter, both my arms were sore for about four days. I thought it was normal and something I had to deal with. Everyone just diagnosed it as tendonitis. After getting through the clay and grass with pain doctors prescribed anti-inflammatories, which did help. I went off them, just before Asia, when I thought I was on these pills for too long. I took about 2-3 weeks off during preseason and then did some strengthening. I was at my career high ranking and wanted to continue the momentum. I went into 2017 playing Doha and Dubai. During Dubai I literally felt my elbow crack. It was now Indian Wells and the discomfort in my wrist and elbow was at an all time high. I was fed up with unqualified doctors and went to the Mayo Clinic to get the highest quality MRI. This doctor found three tears in my wrist and that one of the bones in my wrist was too long which caused the tears and impaction. The first surgery ended up solely repairing the tears, as he did not see the original impaction anymore. Shortly after healing my elbow started killing. A doctor examined it and found that two bone spurs hit each other every time I straightened my elbow, and the main one was fractured. This was the crack I felt in Dubai. The bone needed to be shaven down. It was a simple surgery and I got back to playing, but it wasn’t over. Pain returned in my wrist from ‘one of the worst impactions ever’. The doctor apologized for not doing the surgery earlier but now it was a must. They basically cut my bone in half, shortened it, and then put a plate in. This took some real time before I started hitting, but once I got to the baseline something was wrong. I received this swelling on my arm every time I played. We figured out the plate in my arm was too big, causing inflammation and aggravation. I got the plate out last Monday and that’s where I am now. The hardest things have been hitting and getting close to normality and then just being totally set back. There is no way I can do this anymore, but tennis is everything to me. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t love this sport.”

Excerpt from Tennis Life

All of this could well have happened regardless of her path to the pros. But Bellis was a precocious phenom. And she played a LOT of tennis, at a very, very young age.

At age 13, she made her debut on the ITF junior circuit as a wild card – and played nine matches in singles and doubles that week. From November, 2012 through the end of 2013, she played 73 matches.

In one two-week period in April, 2014, between the USTA Spring Championships and the Easter Bowl, she played … 18 matches.

Bellis was 14 when she began playing ITF Pro Circuit events.

In all in 2014, she played 35 pro matches … and 84 junior matches.

In 2015, she played a lot less – 33 pro matches, and five in juniors.

But 2016 was busy again, even if her junior days were behind her. Bellis played 45 pro matches by mid-June – and 85 in all during the season.

She’s not a particularly tall, strong, muscular young woman. Quite the opposite, in fact. This was a heavy load. Not to mention the hours upon hours of hitting tennis balls.

JENNIFER CAPRIATI STARTED IT ALL

She wasn’t the first starlet but she was the one that got the adults in the room to huddle up and begin to rethink age eligibility requirements only to bend them for her.  In 1990, South Florida’s Jennifer Capriati set the age record for turing professional.

Capriati set a number of youngest-ever records at the start of her career. She made her professional debut in 1990 at the age of 13 years 11 months, reaching the final of the hard-court tournament in Boca Raton, Florida. Capriati reached the semifinals of the French Open in her debut and later became the youngest ever player to reach the top 10 at age 14 years, 235 days in October of that year. Following a first-round loss at the 1993 US Open, Capriati took a 14-month break from competitive pro tennis. Her personal struggles during this time (including arrests for shoplifting and possession of marijuana) were well-documented by the press.

RICHARD WILLIAMS PROVIDES BLUE PRINT

One of the longest and most successful models of maximizing talent at a young age belongs with Richard Williams.  He held Serena and Venus out of the junior tournament circuit and was very strategic in developing their tennis games and picking and choosing when and where to play and how much to practice.

The Williams Sister’s developed off court interests at a young age and have become ambassadors for the tour because of their high level of play and remarkable longevity.

GAUFF FAMILY DECISION

Professional Tennis is an expensive sport.  The parents and coaching staff and managers needs to make a tough decision.  All of this success comes with financial consideration.  With over $50k available for entry into the first round and a chance for a six figure pay out that could fund her training into the fall in early 2020 it makes sense to want to play the US Open.  But based on the history of young phenoms the balancing act seems to lean toward patience.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

They will have to fight the conflicts of interest that are the land mines they need to navigate.  The USTA wants her is part of Players Development and television ratings.  Her management company and Roger Federer own Team8 wants her to continue to get exposure to grow her brand.  Her parents love her want her to be happy.  Coco loves tennis and wants to play.

This seems to be leading to her excepting the free pass and playing the 2019 US Open.

It would take a strong leader with a clear vision and long term plan to stop this momentum.  Let’s see what happens.

Fingers are crossed for Delray Beach’s Coco Gauff.

Brian Lutz