DELRAY BEACH — Called “our hometown hero’’ by various local politicians, Coco Gauff was back in Delray Beach Friday to attend a press conference that announced the Billie Jean King Cup coming back to town. Gauff will play for Team USA when it hosts Austria April 14-15 in a five-match competition in what’s known as the “World Cup of Women’s Tennis.” Tickets go on sale at Ticketmaster Tuesday for as low as $25.
Ranked 6th in the world, Gauff, 18, returned to South Florida last Saturday from the Australian Open, where she tearfully bowed out in the fourth round in a 6-1, 6-3 upset loss to Latvian Jeļena Ostapenko. At the formal part of the presser at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, Gauff said this means a lot since she was a patron the last time Delray hosted in 2013, then known as the Federation Cup, rooting on the Williams sisters.
Afterward, Gauff spoke to The Palm Beach Post in this Q&A:
What’s the significance of the BJK Cup coming to Delray?
Gauff: You’re always happy to play a tie in your home country and even more in your hometown. I’m super excited. I’ve only got to play in Delray on a big stage only one other time when I did an exhibition at the men’s Delray Beach Open (in 2020 against University of Miami’s Estela Perez-Somarriba). I know a lot of people will come to support me and the team.
What do you like about being from Delray?
Gauff: It’s the community here and a very strong tennis community. It’s a city where everybody pretty much knows everybody. I’ve always had support from the city even in juniors and early in my pro career. That’s what makes Delray special. It’s a small city with a big heart.
Would you like to see a women’s tour event here like the men’s Delray Beach Open?
Gauff: For sure. It would be really cool. I know the men do well here. I’m never going to say no to an event in my home city.
You were emotional after the fourth-round loss in Australia. Any further reflections on the showing?
Gauff: It was a learning experience. I think mentally I did what I could. It came down to some tactical decisions I made. I’ll get better from it and try not to make the same mistakes next time when that situation comes.
What’s your favorite Grand Slam and second-favorite and why?
Gauff: For sure my favorite is the US Open. The crowd, especially at night time, it’s unbelievable. My second-favorite is a hard question. I have to say the French Open because I’ve had good results there (2022 semifinals, 2021 quarterfinals) and Paris is my favorite city. I’m really excited to play the French Open this year.
Serena captured 23 Grand Slam titles, Venus 7. The women’s game is much deeper now but what number would satisfy you?
Gauff: I don’t know when I’d be satisfied. It’s a question for the “future me.” Maybe in 10 years I’ll have a better answer to that. The ambition is to win as much as I can. The goal is just to win one and go from there. Once you get over the first hurdle, I’m not going to just want to win a second one. I’ll want more. But right now I’m just trying to win one.
Any regrets of never having the traditional high-school experience like going to Atlantic or American Heritage?
Gauff: I have no regrets regarding my schooling with all the friendships I’ve made through traveling. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. What made it better living in Florida is you don’t meet many top tennis players who didn’t do an online school. It was quite the norm here. Living here made it not as abnormal as it seems. If I lived in another state, I’d have a different answer. Since it’s so normal for tennis players in Florida to do an online school, I didn’t feel not normal. Sitting at an academy like here, we sat in the shade doing homework.
What do you like to do while you’re home and when do you leave?
Gauff: I’ll be practicing today and I leave next week to go to Doha, Qatar for a tour event. In my free time, I’m hanging with my brothers and just love to be at home and sometimes going to the beach. I’ll try to do that more this week but when it starts getting too hot, I bail out.
Your father Cori has been a big part of your career as one of the your coaches. What’s his biggest influence?
Gauff: It’s my belief system, believing I could do anything and everything is achievable. He’s never doubted me as a person. When the people who surround you don’t doubt you, it doesn’t allow you to doubt yourself. I’m grateful I have parents who jumped on board with whatever I wanted to do. It’s not often you see parents go with what the child wants to do. And they gave me the tools to be successful with that.
The USTA invited the Williams sisters to participate in this event in some way. Would you like that?
Gauff: Yeah, they’re Palm Beach County residents and I hope they can stop by. I don’t know if they will. Serena now being retired still has a lot going on. Venus is still playing on tour. She could be playing a tour event. Obviously, it would be great to see them.
Do you think Serena is really done?
Gauff: I go with whatever Serena says but I doubt the US Open will be the last thing. But she’s hinted at returning and hinted at not returning. I’m going by her last interview saying she wasn’t. You’d think that would be final but if she changes her mind, I’m sure she’ll do what she wants regardless of public opinion.
What about Jessica Pegula, who lives in Boca, playing for USA here?
Gauff: I would love for Jess to play. She’s our No. 1 American. With the scheduling of the season, it’s tough to make time for all events though.
In honor of the New York Post’s Steve Serby, name your three dinner guests, dead or alive?
Gauff: Three people to have dinner with? I would say, ooh, it’s a tough question. But Maya Angelou, Beyonce and Arthur Ashe.