The Guns of Navarro

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Photo by Getty Images

Vinay Venkatesh

Indian Wells

ONE HECK OF A STREAKING SINNER: Jannik Sinner has won 18 straight matches.

BIRTHDAY GIRL GAUFF –  A GEM OF AN ATHLETE: There are three prime things that stand out to us about Coco Gauff, who turned 20 today.

• She’s really good at tennis. Five years ago she announced herself on the biggest of stages when she famously upset Venus Williams in the first round of the 2019 Wimbledon. She reached the 2022 French Open finals. More recently she became No. 1 in doubles, and she won last year’s US Open. That’s being good at tennis.

• Coco has been a brave and reflective off-court thinker who has offered an array of insights on everything from gun violence and banning books to the importance of education. Her 2020 impromptu comments on racial justice in Delray Beach, Florida, made for one of the better speeches a tennis player has ever made.

• Yes, Coco Gauff likes glamor. She just became a glistening cover girl for Vogue. How many other 20-year-olds are as famous as she is? Last year she made almost $23 million – more than any other woman athlete.

Yet, despite all, she remains oh-so-real. If young divas are your thing, bark up another tree. She’s hardly full of herself. She says, “I’m a pretty simple girl.”

Today, after she demolished Elise Mertens 6-0, 6-2, she gave one of her delightful Holly Golightly press conferences, commenting, “Finally, I got a win on my birthday.” As for her one-sided victory, she joked, “Honestly, I think I’m trying to get as many 6-0 sets as possible, because we have Iga, who has the bakery.”

Coco loves to talk about her two younger brothers, who keep it real for her. They don’t think she’s that big a deal, and, of course, they don’t listen to her. Similarly, she almost chuckles when she tells us that her dad changes the tires on her car and her mom does her laundry, helps her unpack and tells her it’s time to pick up her room. The next big step in her life will be flying the coop. We sense she’s a tad concerned about leaving home.

Photo by Michael Kheir

When some players celebrate a big birthday or win a major tourney, they buy themselves a Mercedes or a diamond brooch.

But tonight, low-key Gauff is only going out for dinner. She said, “I don’t think there’s anything materialistic that I really…need to get right now…I haven’t gotten anything…I always forget.”

She won $3 million at the US Open, but said she still hasn’t gotten herself a present. She mused, “The things I want I can’t buy. The things I want, I already have. I’m healthy, happy, on tour, living the dream.”

What insight and self-awareness – yes? Ms. Gauff is wise beyond her years. And, no, we weren’t surprised when a reporter commented, “She’s amazing. I love everything that’s happening for her.”

Coco does have goals for her 20s. “I definitely want to win some more Slams, and I want a medal at this Olympics, or 2028. That would be cool…[As for] life goals, honestly, I haven’t thought that far…I’m not trying to get married or anything [smiling]. Definitely no kids.”

We then noted that most 20-year-old women are worried about spring break, midterms or how things are going with their boyfriend. So, we wondered whether Coco realized what an incredible life she’s living. We asked, “Do you ever step back and say, ‘Why me?’ Or is it more, ‘Hey, I’ve earned it?’ Do you realize the uniqueness of your life?”

She replied, “Yeah, I definitely recognize the uniqueness of it. It’s a combination of why me and also the work I put in…I don’t think it’s solely because of work, because a lot of people work hard. I’m lucky I was born with a great athletic ability and also a work ethic and learned how to work hard and can enjoy working hard…I am very blessed to be in the position I am in.”

But with things that are off-court, said Gauff, “That’s definitely more the ‘Why me?’ part…I don’t know why people gravitate to me so much, but I definitely do appreciate it, and it makes me feel loved, and I hope I can make other people feel the same way.”

As for her speaking out and using her platform, Coco said, “That’s one of the main things I’ve wanted to do since I was young…I knew I was going to do that regardless of how my life went…The people who raised me always taught me to uplift the other people. I was taught from a very young age about the privilege I have.”

And for five years, it’s been a privilege for so many fans to watch Coco grow. And let’s not forget, this gem of a sports person still has such a long way to go.

BIRTHDAY NOTES: There are some players whose birthdays are perpetually celebrated at big tennis tournaments. For decades, Coco Gauff should be having her birthday at Indian Wells. Rafa often celebrates his birthday at Roland Garros. Jimmy Connors’s big day always came during the US Open. Pam Shriver’s July 5th celebration always comes during Wimbledon and Carlos Alacaraz and Aryna Sabalenka celebrate during the Madrid Open. But this led to “cakegate” last year, when officials gave the Spanish guy a huge birthday cake on court and Sabalenka got just a small one off court.

THE GUNS OF NAVARRO: A young former NCAA champ, the University of Texas’ Peyton Stearns, should have beaten Aryna Sabalenka Saturday night. But she couldn’t convert any of her four match points.

Today it was the turn of another young former NCAA Champ, the University of Virginia’s Emma Navarro. Emma didn’t falter. This afternoon the No. 23 player in the world downed the No. 2 seed and two-time Aussie Open champion, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. With her win over last year’s Indian Wells finalist, Emma reached her fourth quarterfinal and won her 18th match of the year, the most in the WTA.

For Navarro, it was the win of her life. The 22-year-old, who was born in  New York City and now lives in Charleston, South Carolina, couldn’t stop beaming. And why not? 

With adept ease, Emma absorbed Aryna’s power. She broke the Belarusian four times, while serving with variety and confidence. She won stunning scramble points and stepped up at crunch time. She took advantage of all her break opportunities.

American fans were thrilled with her play. The surging star in the making will now break into the top 20. Sabalenka said Emma will make it to the top ten. She’s almost there.

The former French Open junior finalist next plays the No. 9 seed, Maria Sakkari. The Greek downed Emma in Dubai a few weeks ago.

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON, BOY, WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? Carlos Alcaraz told The Tennis Channel, “I always say that my idol is Rafa – but I really want to play like Roger. I’m not gonna lie. You know, his style and elegance on the court is something amazing.”

FASHION TAKE: Coco Gauff said she was glad that the gown she was wearing at the fancy Time Gala was made by Prada because the Italian fashion house has a name that’s so easy to pronounce. Now that the 2022 Indian Wells champion, Taylor Fritz, has switched from Nike to Boss, one fashionista observed, “He’s wearing Boss and playing like a boss.”

SAUDI ARABIA TO TAKE OVER THE ATP AND THE WTA? Here we go again. Three times in the past two decades, tennis has signed up with deep-pocket partners in deals that supposedly will bring salvation to the game.

They all failed.

Now, tennis may be going down that path again. Saudi Arabia has presented a proposal to take over pro tennis, in a move that’s more like sports scrubbing than sportswashing. The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has made a $2 billion offer to merge the ATP and the WTA, according to The London Telegraph.

The four Grand Slams are not part of the deal and the Saudis put in a 90-day take it or leave it deadline.

While many are eager to earn the far higher prize money that the Saudis may provide, and some want to establish engagement with the kingdom, others are upset that tennis would partner with a nation that has such a wretched human rights record, including mass executions, terrorism, the lack of a sensible legal system and the repression of women.

Meanwhile, tennis historians noted that in 1999 the ATP signed a $1.2 billion deal with International Sports and Leisure (ISL). After two years, it collapsed. The WTA invested big time in China, which soon began to stage 11 tourneys a year, including the year-end WTA Finals. But the sexual abuse scandal with Peng Shuai left the collaboration in the dust.

The soccer-happy Kosmos Investment Group bought the Davis Cup for $3 billion. The deal took much of the wind out of tennis’ grand team competition. Yannick Noah mused: “They sold the soul of a historic event. Sorry, Mr. Davis.” Not that surprisingly, after just five years, the Davis Cup deal unraveled.

The Saudi proposal does not include the four Grand Slams. Certainly a Saudi deal will delight those who would love to take advantage of the kingdom’s deep pocket financial resources – think Nick Kyrgios.

BTW: the highest-ranked Saudi Arabian tennis player in history, Fahad Al Saad, had a career-high ranking of 1303. He’s 39 now and has never played on the pro tour. Ohio-born Yara Alhogbani, 19, became the first Saudi woman to win a WTA match. She’s unranked and has a 4-14 record and now lives in Virginia, but represents the kingdom.

STAT OF THE DAY: This year, Emma Navarro is 11-2 in three-set matches.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “What a birthday present Coco Gauff gave to herself!” – Nick McCarvel

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