The spectators in the Steffi Graf Stadium had to make a decision: a goodie bag at the Hundekehlesee presented by tournament director Barbara Rittner or balls signed by Coco Gauff, which the American tennis player won after her 6:2, 7:6 (7:2) -The opening win against compatriot Ann Li at the Berlin lawn tournament hit the audience.

Some fans didn’t hesitate and hurried to leave the center court on the LTTC Rot-Weiss facility in the direction of Rittner. The others enjoyed the 18-year-old Gauff, who first gave patient and friendly interviews on the pitch, then distributed the gifts and finally also wrote autographs for minutes and posed for photos with the spectators. She did everything with a warm smile.

Cori “Coco” Gauff has not only been the rising star in the tennis firmament since she reached the final at the French Open almost two weeks ago. Three years ago she was a very young girl at Wimbledon, where she first won the hearts of British fans as a qualifier and then made it to the round of 16 of the most important tournament in the world.

In 2022 she is still mostly the youngest in a field of participants, but she now acts on and off the pitch with a maturity that astonishes.

In her match against Li, she played confidently for a long time and only wobbled a little in the final phase of the second set. In fact, she even stumbled at match point, but still got the point. “I still have to get used to it a bit, on sand you often slide to balls. Of course you can’t do that on grass, that’s why I fell at the last point,” she explained in the winner’s talk and immediately gave the all-clear: She wasn’t injured in the final action.

For the Berlin tournament, Coco Gauff’s elimination of any kind would be bitter, as she is the absolute driving force after the cancellations of Iga Swiatek and Naomi Osaka. On Thursday, Gauff will continue against Xinyu Wang in the round of 16, and then maybe a few more fans will be on site to cheer her on. And maybe also to observe how Gauff has further developed her game.

When she burst into the spotlight in 2019, she still seemed impetuous, at times impatient. In the meantime, Gauff radiates incredible calm and is hardly impressed by setbacks. When she missed twice against Li in the second set to end the match on her own serve, she regrouped in the tie-break and once again dominated with her service. “I knew I was going to get free points, so I could focus on the returns,” she said.

Between rallies, their movements are dosed extremely sparingly. She almost sneaks from side to side. Once the game is underway, Gauff is fully focused and can call long rallies as well as score quick points, covering the whole course. Nevertheless, she still has room for improvement, the wild and impetuous still comes through with her – often this still leads to minor mistakes.

And yet Gauff is far ahead of many colleagues of the same age, especially physically. In Paris, she also reached the final in doubles and wiped away any doubts about her freshness. “I’ve put so much into preparation over the years and I’ve never had an endurance problem,” she said at the time. Her father, who prepared her for a professional career and still works as a coach, laid the foundations for his daughter’s success at an early age.

The Gauffs have long been a family business in which Coco represents the business model. It pays off, after the strong performances at the French Open, the American is knocking on the door to the top ten in the world rankings. The fact that she has long since not only focused on sport makes her even more important.

At the same time, Gauff graduated from high school and recently attracted attention with statements on social issues. In Paris, after her victory in the semifinals, she wrote on the camera: “Peace! Stop gun violence!” She has repeatedly taken a position on the never-ending series of rampages in the United States. Her father encouraged her to do this, she explained. “My team wants me to say what I think.” Statements like these make Coco Gauff appear like a particularly mature 18-year-old. And one from which much can be expected in the future. In tennis, but not only there.