Cori “Coco” Gauff is in her first major semifinal at this year’s French Open. The South Florida resident has been keeping up with her favorite NBA team, the Miami Heat, while in Paris. She signed the television camera lens after a recent match with “Heat in 7.”
Of course, the Heat eventually lost in seven to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. But Gauff was asked about her time as a basketball player and said her game was more like Golden State Warriors defensive ace Draymond Green’s.
“I was really good on defense. I couldn’t shoot to save my life, but defense I was on,” said Gauff. “Guarding people, I was really good at that. But, yeah I was the defensive player. I was @Money23Green. No offense to him.”
Coco Gauff on her basketball days: "I was really good on defense. I couldn't shoot to save my life, but defense I was on. Guarding people, I was really good at that.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) June 1, 2022
The comparison is interesting from a tennis perspective. So much of defense in basketball is about a will to defend. Moving your feet and fighting through fatigue. In tennis you don’t really have a choice. The nature of the sport means you play defense every match. Maybe that defensive mentality and fight translates to her tennis game.
Watching Gauff over the course of the French Open you’re seeing an understanding in how to turn defense into offense. She’s constructing points and dictating what her opponents are doing. Much the same way Green does quarterbacking the defense and getting the players organized on offense for the Warriors.
Elite professional athletes across all sports have an ability to process information incredibly quickly. The best ones can do that all while maintaining an equilibrium and recalling prior experiences that apply to a current situation. Green is a master of this, at 18 Gauff is showing a preternatural ability to do the same.
“It felt a lot special, just because, not because it was a quarter or anything. I think because really last year I lost in the quarters and I had some set points, I think I had six or something set points in the first set,” Gauff said after her quarterfinal win.
“I think that that match helped me today, and I think that I was playing way too passive when I get the lead in whatever. Even today I threw in some double faults at 5-1. I think I was, in that moment, was back in that mentality of that match and I think having that match I was like, I know I’m falling back into this mentality so I need to change it up, and I did.”
While Gauff is in her first penultimate round of a Grand Slam, Green and the Warriors are playing in their sixth NBA Finals in eight seasons. Like Gauff, he will need to play his best in the highest leverage moments if he wants to hoist his fourth championship trophy.
Given both players’ defensive and grinding mentality, they will both likely be at their best when it matters the most over the next few days and weeks. If they are, and in Green’s case so are his teammates, they both might celebrate with championships.