Coco Gauff is 1 of 4 first-timers at WTA Finals; Pegula, too

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Coco Gauff is hardly an unknown quantity at this point, even though she is still just 18.

The Floridian has proven herself by rising steadily through the rankings, up to a career-best No. 4 currently, and progressing steadily through Grand Slam brackets, including an appearance in her first major final at the French Open in June.

Gauff took the latest step in her evolution as a professional tennis player by qualifying for the first time in singles and doubles at the WTA Finals, which begin Monday on an indoor hard court set up in Dickies Arena.

She is one of four women making a singles debut at the season-ending event; only eight qualify.

“It is significant that there’s a lot of new faces. It shows that the tour is always evolving,” Gauff said Saturday after practicing with her doubles partner, Jessica Pegula, another player from the U.S. who is participating in the WTA Finals for the first time. “There’s always going to be someone coming up and doing well. That’s what makes it exciting.”

Gauff and Pegula will face off against Xu Yifan and Yang Zhaoxuan to close out Monday’s schedule. The singles matches earlier on Day 1 will be Pegula vs. Maria Sakkari, and Ons Jabeur vs. Aryna Sabalenka.

Jabeur and Daria Kasatkina are the other new faces in the singles field.

“Definitely proves I belong with the best players in the world,” said Jabeur, who is ranked No. 2 behind Iga Swiatek and was the runner-up this year at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, her first two Grand Slam finals.

Gauff burst onto the scene at age 15 in 2019, when she became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history, beat Venus Williams in the first round and made it all the way to the fourth. Her initial major quarterfinal came at Roland Garros in 2021, and then she was the runner-up to Swiatek there this year.

She got to No. 1 in the doubles rankings in August — the second-youngest woman to climb that high — and is the youngest American woman since 1994 to earn a singles berth at the WTA Finals.

There are many “youngest this” and “youngest that” labels associated with Gauff.

“I don’t really pay attention to it. Not that I’m not grateful; obviously I’m really grateful. When it comes to these statistics and stats about my age ... it’s cool, but I feel like it’s my life, so I don’t look at it as amazing or outstanding, (the way) other people look at it,” she said.

A moment later, as she continued discussing that phenomenon, Gauff added with a laugh: “It’s going to be somebody else’s turn soon.”

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Gauff, Swiatek, Kasatkina and Caroline Garcia — who is working with Juan Pablo Guzmán this week after her previous coach, Bertrand Perret, recently ended their partnership — are in the Tracy Austin Group for the round-robin format that starts the tournament. Jabeur, Pegula, Sakkari and Sabalenka are in the Nancy Richey Group.

The top two finishers in each section will advance to the semifinals; the final is Nov. 7.

There’ll be some math involved in figuring out who moves on to the elimination stage.

But Jabeur has a solution for that.

“The only thing that I should do,” she said, “is win every match, so I don’t have to calculate anything.”

___

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports