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Coco Gauff brings excitement to U.S. tennis 

By Sigurd Neubauer


She didn’t lose a single set in the 2023 Mubadala Citi DC Open. In the final, Coco Gauff, 19, trounced Maria Sakkkari, 28, 6-2, 6-3 winning her first U.S. title.

Although Gauff lost during the first round at the 2023 Wimbledon, President Vesa Ponkka of the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) is excited about what’s next for the American. “She played excellent throughout the tournament and there’s no question that she will win Grand Slams in the future.”

She has a very strong backhand and forehand is a work-in-progress, explains Ponkka who is also one of America’s preeminent tennis coaches. Gauff is ranked as No. 7 in the world but is the second highest ranked American female player after Jessica Pegula, 29, who is No. 4. 

With the ultimate goal of becoming the No. 1 in the world, Gauff is contemplating hiring Brad Gilbert as her coach, Ponkka reveals. “Brad has coached some of the very best players in the world, including Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, and Andy Murray, who have all won Grand Slams. He has an outstanding track record of taking the best players in the world to the next level.”

Gauff and Gilbert are in the middle of a three-week try-out period. “Brad can provide Gauff with a style that would be a ‘nightmare’ to defend against. He’s the best in the business to help her develop that,” the veteran coach explains, adding: “If he becomes Gauff’s coach, it would be a great fit.”

Pegula has done well this year, but Sakkkari of Greece defeated her – 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 – during the semifinals at the Mubadala Citi DC Open.

JTCC President Vesa Ponkka is one of America’s preeminent coaches. Photo credit: Courtesy

Brad Gilbert has an outstanding track record of taking the best players in the world to the next level: Ponkka


During the men’s final, Daniel Evans, 33, defeated Tallon Griekspoor, 27, 7-5, 6-3. 

Responding to how to assess Evans’ surprise victory in Washington, D.C., Ponkka describes it as “a huge victory for the Briton as he’s been on a losing streak over the past seven tournaments.”

Ponkka was surprised that he was able to keep it together as “he’s had an awful spring and summer. But he played tough, and this is by far his best tournament ever,” the coach explains, but points out that at the age of 33 he’s lots of experience. “It will be interesting to see if he can carry his momentum to the upcoming US Open.”

Evans is ranked No. 21 whereas Griekspoor is No. 26 in the world.

At the Mubadala Citi DC Open, Evans defeated Frances Tiafoe, 25, 6-4, 7-5.  Tiafo, who is ranked No. 10 in the world, is a JTCC graduate who Ponkka knows well.

Daniel Evans. Photo credit: Ben Solomon/Mubadala Citi DC Open

Commenting on Tiafo’s loss to Evans, Ponkka explains that the Briton “played it the right way as he was able to keep Tiafoe off-balance.” 

Evans, the veteran coach explains, has one of the best variety of backhands on the ATP Tour. “He was able to keep the ball low, as well as the tempo low. His variety was excellent. Tiafo was on his toes and couldn’t get into any rhythm, which is how Evens was able to pluck Tiafoe’s serves with slices.”

The Briton had “a perfect strategy which he executed extremely well. It was impressive that Evans could play two full matches in one day and end up at the top,” a reference Ponkka is making to Thursday’s rainout. 

Taylor Fritz, 25, who along with Tiafoe, were the highest-ranked male players participating in the Mubadala Citi DC Open, lost during the semifinals to Griekspoor 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Commenting on the match, Ponkka points out that Fritz is a better player – ranked No. 9 in the world – but that the American was physically tired and mentally drained. 

“Griekspoor played well and was aggressive with the short balls. Fritz was tired from the two matches that he played on Friday.”

During his first – which lasted around three hours – Fritz defeated Andy Murray, 36, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4.  The match was briefly interrupted by climate protesters and had initially been scheduled for Thursday but was postponed because of rain.

Murray has won three Grand Slam titles. Murray almost defeated Fritz, Ponkka points out, adding that “it was good to see how Murray is able to play these long matches at his age.”

On what’s next for Evans, the veteran coach says that the Briton is playing his best tennis ever. “He’s always been talented, but he was suspended by the ATP when he was younger for testing positive for cocaine. Its impressive that he’s been able to turn it around and plays well at the age of 33.”

When it comes to Griekspoor, Ponkka assesses his game as “rock sold.” During the final, he made too many unforced errors. “It might have been because his nerves got the better of him. The Dutch has nonetheless had a great year and it will be interesting to see how he will be doing at the US Open.”

“Griekspoor is a very dangerous player,” he adds.

When it comes to what’s next for Fritz and Tiafoe respectively, Ponkka plays down their inability to win in Washington, D.C. by pointing out that they’re both top 10 players. “I expect them to do well in the US Open. The fact that they didn’t do well at the Mubadala Citi DC Open wasn’t a big deal as it was mostly tied to scheduling and weather,” which he describes as “unique.” The two of them, he explains, are confident as they consider the small tournaments between Wimbledon and the US Open to be preparations for the landmark New York event.

Ponkka expects American players to perform well at the upcoming US Open
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