Why we may not see 15-year-old sensation Cori 'Coco' Gauff at many tournaments

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United States' Cori 'Coco' Gauff is a household name after her performance at Wimbledon. (AP)
United States' Cori 'Coco' Gauff is a household name after her performance at Wimbledon. (AP)

Cori “Coco” Gauff became a household name within a week as she dazzled at Wimbledon and made it to the fourth round at the All England Club.

It was more than the way she played tennis that forced even casual fans take notice. Gauff is only 15 and while she became a superstar in part because of it, her age will also limit what she’s able to do in the coming years.

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WTA limits tournaments by age

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) instituted an age restriction policy in 1994 that limits the number of tournaments teenagers are allowed to play. It has been slightly restructured throughout the years, with the following rules in use now:

  • Ages 13 and under: not allowed to play professionally

  • Age 14: maximum of eight professional events, only three of which can have prize money higher than $60,000

  • Age 15: maximum of 10 pro events, plus WTA Finals and Fed Cup

  • Age 16: maximum of 12 pro events, plus WTA Finals and Fed Cup

  • Age 17: maximum of 16 pro events, plus WTA and Fed Cup

Each age is limited by the number of wild cards she is able to receive — that’s how Gauff entered the main draw at Wimbledon — and players are not able to reach the Top 10 list until turning 18.

The rules were first put in place after the perils of teenage prodigies such as Jennifer Capriati.

Coco earns relaxed rules, still limited

Gauff turned 15 on March 13 and is allowed a maximum of 10 professional events, though WTA has relaxed that number according to espnW and given her 12 based on her play at the junior level. Gauff won the girls French Open at 14, was the youngest to make the U.S. Open girls final, won the 12 & Under Junior Orange Bowl title in 2016 and is seen here crushing the game as a 10-year-old.

She has played in eight events already during the four months since her birthday and will only be able to play in four more if the rules remain.

Her coach, Jean-Christophe Faurel, told The Telegraph the star will finish her freshman year of high school upon returning home and take “at least three weeks off” before entering one hard court competition. He said her team would like to see Gauff compete at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York, next month after her success at Wimbledon.

That leaves two remaining. The only other Grand Slam before she turns 16 is the Australian Open in January 2020.

Gauff is also limited by how much time she can spend talking to the media. She’s allowed four hours total throughout a tournament.

Tennis stars ask for relaxed WTA rules

Gauff’s run has prompted tennis stars, fans and the WTA to at least look at the age restrictions.

Roger Federer, whose Team8 agency represents Gauff, told reporters he thinks the rules should be relaxed. He said he understands the rule and that his stance has nothing to do with his relationship to Gauff.

From Tennis.com:

“I think it would be nice, you know, if they could play more. I feel like it puts in some ways extra pressure on them every tournament they play.

"Maybe your best time, and your best time is from 14 to 20 [years old] for some reason. It's not like for everybody else from 20 to 30. So in a way you take away that opportunity.

"I don't have the perfect solution... we've had the history of some tough parents. But at the same time you're also increasing the pressure for that player each week to produce."

Serena Williams hasn’t played more than 14 tournaments in a calendar year since 2014 and Rafael Nadal noted he doesn’t usually play 15 events in a year when he was asked about the rule, which he told Tennis.com he supports.

Pam Shriver told espnW she “can’t say quick enough” that the rule should remain and used her own experience playing as a teenager in the 1970s.

“Even though there will always be some young phenoms, some young players that can manage it all, most have problems.”

Gauff and her team will have to be choosy in the coming years with what tournaments they enter, but it’s unlikely “Cocomania” goes anywhere in the weeks between.

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