EletiofePatrick Mouratoglou: 'Coco Gauff was more mature at 14...

Patrick Mouratoglou: ‘Coco Gauff was more mature at 14 than women of 25’


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In the chaos of a pandemic and scenes in the United States of police brutality against protesters protesting against police brutality, clarity can arise from unexpected places. On Wednesday afternoon it came at the Delray Beach City Hall in the form of a 16-year-old tennis player. With a microphone, a mask and a bottle of water in her hand, Coco Gauff stood and let the world hear her message.

Unlike the vague platitudes often offered in speech by her elders, in her two-and-a-half-minute speech Gauff did not waste a word. She projected determination, anger and solutions. She finished defiantly: “Black lives have always mattered. They mattered then, they matter now and they will matter in the future.” Then she marched from the stage.

“Unbelievable,” says Patrick Mouratoglou, whose academy is affiliated with Gauff. “She’s just different. It’s something I have known since I met her – she came to my academy at 10. I spoke to her, I had an individual one-on-one discussion with her. I said: ‘Guys, she’s different.’

“When you meet people who are exceptional, you know it. I feel it straight away. Since that day, she’s been surprising me all the time, even though I know she’s so special. At 14 she was more mature than women on tour who are 25. That’s incredible. She has an inner strength that is completely unusual. She has a self-confidence that serves her in her tennis, but to be able to come and make a speech at 16 the way she did? You don’t see that. Again, she surprised me. I’m not surprised that I am surprised, but I’m surprised.”

As Gauff and Naomi Osaka protest in the US, tennis this summer has morphed into a complex labyrinth of non-sanctioned tournaments. Mouratoglou’s Ultimate Tennis Showdown was one of the first such events announced, marketed as a “revolutionary” departure from the main tour.

“We are clearly failing to renew our fanbase so we are not very attractive to the younger generations and new fans because the world has changed around us,” he says. “I don’t think that tennis has changed at all … a few weeks ago we realised that there was no live events in sports and I thought maybe we can have a window to showcase tennis differently.”

Since Mouratoglou’s announcement, the summer calendar has been awash with so many new events that it can be difficult to tell them apart, but the Frenchman insists his tennis league will endure once the regular events return. The “revolutionary” aspects cited by Mouratoglou includes players interacting with both fans and coaches through headsets during their matches and fewer behavioural restrictions, allowing players to emote more. Players will receive a higher proportion of the broadcast and advertising revenue than at regular ATP events.

Additionally, he says the Cincinnati tournament potentially moving to New York immediately before the US Open, according to the New York Times, reminds him of UTS, which will take the form of a league over five weekends and includes players such as Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and Félix Auger‑Aliassime.

“It’s a great idea, I’m happy to see that UTS has inspired people,” says Mouratoglou. “That’s one of the ideas – to stay in the same place, don’t have players move around everywhere. I heard that the US Open is also thinking about another of our ideas, which is on-court coaching, so that’s great. My goal is to help make tennis transition to what’s coming next and to be able to continue to grow rather than falling down, because no new fans come to our sport. So I’m sure that the ATP, WTA and the grand slams are going to move more now that we are here and it’s great because I’ve been passionate about tennis since I was a kid. The only thing I want is tennis to be the biggest sport on the planet.

The fate of the US Open will be announced on 15 June. Like many sporting events looking to resume, the question is how much the risk of coronavirus can be limited. The US Open’s plans include charter planes from a select few cities to New York, significantly limited entourages with players potentially using only tournament physios and even the elimination of the qualifying event. The ATP’s decision on its proposals is imminent.

Herwig Straka, a tournament representative on the ATP board, says: “Even if there are no fans in the whole tournament, I understand why they still want to run it because it’s the main event in the whole year [in the US]. There is sympathy for that. However, we as a tour need to think bigger and we need to find a good way to balance those interests. It is sometimes forgotten about, but the health and security of the players is still the ultimate goal for everybody.”

There are many questions about how such rules would function. The potential health issues still seem enormous, from the simple risk of players being treated by the same physios to the potential for litigation in the US should anybody become gravely ill.

Top players who travel with large entourages will be disproportionately affected; it seems unlikely Serena Williams would attend an event that forbids her from travelling with her daughter. Mouratoglou, however, does not agree.

“I don’t think any player will miss a grand slam if they can play,” he says. “Especially at the moment, most of them would not have any competition until the US Open. If the US Open can take place, I think they will go. Whatever the conditions are.”

Those sceptical about the US Open would point to the cautious tone set by Rafael Nadal. Straka says: “We will try everything to come back to play as soon as possible. For sure, my feeling when I talk to players is that it is not at the price of risking health.”

When tennis does return, the question on the tip of every tongue will centre around age. Williams will turn 39 in September. It could be that she returns after the break refreshed, or face another struggle to re-establish her top level again. Mouratoglou simply shrugs. “I don’t think six months is gonna make a big difference,” he says. “Six months ago, she was 38 and a half and she’s going to be 39. I don’t see any change. It’s the same for her as for everyone: find the inner motivation to continue to grow. That’s the challenge for everyone.”

The Ultimate Tennis Showdown, the first live global competitive tennis league without spectators, launches on 13 June. View and subscribe via utslive.tv

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