By Luke Jensen, French Open Doubles Champion
In my last column, I wrote about the awesome underdog from Atlanta, Chris Eubanks. I’ve been so impressed with his ability to handle the fame while maintaining focus on his game. He’s only going to continue to rise!
As we close out another year, I have to touch on the incredible US Open. More than 950,000 fans showed up over the three weeks. The best value in the tennis world is US Open Fan Week. It’s the week of qualifying and the extremely important week of preparation for the main draw players. Organizers did well to promote the fact that tennis fans can attend Fan Week free of charge — with opportunities to watch unique exhibitions and interviews with their favorite tennis stars.
Anyone can be courtside at Ashe Stadium watching the practices of Djokovic, Gauff, Alcaraz and more. More than 150,000 fans passed through the gates during Fan Week alone this year, and I expect it to grow in 2024. If there is just one event I would recommend you put on your tennis bucket list, it is the 2024 US Open Fan Week. It is such a unique experience. I saw many tennis directors from clubs bringing their members by the dozens to experience the brightest tennis stars in the world in the front row!
Fan Week was really a springboard to all the must-see tennis of the US Open. I am so impressed with Coco Gauff. To really evaluate her game at Wimbledon and see that she needed a “Jedi Master” like Brad Gilbert shows a ton of maturity. There are no free lunches on tour, so to speak, with so much amazing competition. So, the smart players are coachable to reach their full potential. Gauff went on a tear over the summer with Gilbert and lost only one singles match.
She always has been a player who didn’t know her tactical identity. Inspired by the Williams sisters, it always seemed to me like she was trying to play like Venus and Serena. There are similarities, but Gauff sees the game differently than her idols. She plays her best when she is running and rallying into long exchanges from the baseline. The confident power comes from an elite serve and locked-in backhand. It’s the management of her forehand that has been the difference.
Under pressure, Gauff used to rip away at the forehand and spit out numerous errors. When that happened, her overall confidence suffered. Conversely, the Williams sisters were raised to be mentally bulletproof — no matter how many errors they hit. Basically, always on their terms … missing never affected their supreme mindset.
When Gilbert coaches a player, they must have the ability to win majors. He doesn’t want to work with “pretenders.” Then he takes what they do well and makes that the focus of the battle plan. He makes sure that the weaker shots are steady while the weapons win the matches.
Gilbert had Gauff fall back on the returns to create long, extended rallies that turned into physically punishing her opponents with fitness during the Open. This was the Andre Agassi model during Gilbert’s years coaching him. Agassi is one of the greatest pure strikers in tennis history and was extremely accurate with his placement. When Agassi began grinding you down it was just a matter of time before your legs began cramping.
I’m super excited to see how Gilbert preps Gauff for the Australian Open in January 2024. One thing is for sure: Brad won’t mess up something that is working!