One of the great and obvious temptations of sportswriting — you know this — is to take one event in the present moment and use it to predict the next five to 10 years. Coco Gauff certainly offers a relevant example of this temptation.
After Gauff won a WTA Tour title at age 15 on Sunday in Linz, Austria, defeating major champion Jelena Ostapenko in three sets, it is easy to predict large-scale greatness for Gauff.
She will get bigger. She will get stronger. She will develop more power to accompany her developed sense of courtcraft, her considerable resolve, and her deep well of resourcefulness.
Gauff has such an uncommonly level head for a very young player. She understands so much about the finer points of competing and not giving an opponent any comfort zone. When the physical components of her game grow to meet the mental and intangible aspects of her tennis, she could become quite formidable.
Yet, the idea that tennis analysts or any sports analysts can predict how a young athlete’s body will evolve — and how that evolution will work in harmony with everything else transpiring in a young person’s life — is hubristic and ultimately very flawed.
Even in a moment of victory for Gauff, one ought to resist the temptation to use this championship in Linz as a reason to predict the future.
One person who would readily agree with this line of thought: the woman Gauff defeated on Sunday.
Jelena Ostapenko won Roland Garros. She then made the Wimbledon quarterfinals a few weeks later, offering a small measure of evidence that she could carry her game across surfaces and not let down her guard.
I was hugely impressed by Ostapenko then. She seemed to have a competitive mindset which could carry her a long way.
Yet, in the course of time, that mindset — which is not without its strengths — has nevertheless failed to support a balky serve and other aspects of an inconsistent game which have limited Ostapenko’s tennis.
Big moments at one point in an athlete’s life don’t automatically translate into similar successes two or three years later.
We who write or comment about sports can allow ourselves to be impressed. We can allow ourselves to note that if sustained, an athlete’s best habits and tendencies can lead to a better career.
In terms of stepping to the microphone and declaring that today’s win guarantees tomorrow’s success, however, commentators need to be very careful in picking their spots.
(I predicted that Alexander Zverev would win a major after I saw him beat Novak Djokovic in the 2017 Rome final. That was a rare occasion in which I called a shot. I do that very rarely, though, for all the reasons I outlined above. We gonna see, no?)
Coco Gauff is surely relishing this Linz title. Her fans are as well.
I won’t try to see 10 years into the future. I will simply state how impressed I am by Gauff’s resourcefulness in the present moment and watch, with considerable interest, how her journey evolves.
No expectations need to be placed on her shoulders. Not now.
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