EVERETT – It wasn’t lost on tennis sensation Coco Gauff that the kids who gave her a rock-star greeting Tuesday at a youth-tennis clinic at Columbia Athletic Clubs were a lot like her.
Especially in age.
“It’s a little bit weird, and I am still getting used to it,” said Gauff, 15, who hit balls with kids for a half-hour. “Some of them are older than me. I can’t even say it’s Kids’ Day, because I am a kid. I am sure a lot of them, if we lived in the same place, I would be friends with them.”
The clinic was one of the pre-events for the Friday and Saturday Fed Cup matches between the U.S. and Latvia at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. Gauff was joined by U.S. teammate Alison Riske, captain Kathy Rinaldi and coach Lisa Raymond.
Three other members 0f the U.S. team – icon Serena Williams, Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin and doubles specialist Bethanie Mattek-Sands – did not take part in the clinic.
But that was OK, because the best 15-year-old girl on the planet was there. Gauff became an instant sensation last year, reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon, then proved that was no fluke by winning the Linz Open last year, becoming the youngest winner of a WTA Tour event since 2004.
Gauff made it to the fourth round of the Australian Open late last month, losing to Kenin, who has yet to arrive in Everett.
Gauff, who moved up to No. 51 in the world, said getting to represent the U.S. in the Fed Cup for the first time is a thrill.
“It’s a great team and it’s definitely really cool to be on the same team as Serena Williams,” Gauff said.
Riske, 29, is No. 18 in the world rankings. She has been on the U.S. team in several Fed Cups. What advice does she have for Gauff?
“I don’t think Coco needs any advice; Coco just has it,” Riske said. “Coco is there for every moment and I think she is in her element in something like this. It’s just fun to be a teammate with her. I haven’t seen anyone like her since I’ve been on Tour, and for her to be an American, and to be as mature as she is, as cool and kind as she is, is a really cool thing and I’m looking forward to following her career.”
There are no guarantees Gauff will play in the best-of-five-match competition between the U.S. and Latvia, with lineups being announced Thursday at a draw ceremony.
The event will start with two singles matches Friday night. Two reverse singles matches and a doubles match are slated for Saturday.
Kenin, ranked No. 7 in the world, and Williams, No. 9, are the highest-ranked Americans.
But captain Rinaldi said she has full confidence Gauff is ready for the moment.
“Coco Gauff is amazing for 15 years old,” Rinaldi said. “She is so mature; way more mature than when I started (as a pro) at the age of 14. She just blends into the team beautifully. The girls all know her and respect her and she is one of the nicest young ladies you will ever meet. … It’s great to able to give a youth like Coco the opportunity to get her feet wet in the Fed Cup. I am sure she will have many, many more years (in the Fed Cup), but as a captain it’s an honor to be with her in her first Fed Cup.”