The superlative 2021 clay campaign of Coco Gauff–highlighted by dual singles-doubles titles in Parma— has showcased the 17-year-old’s latest developmental look. In fact, Gauff’s game is starting to resemble another great clay-court champion.
No, it’s not who you’re thinking. It’s not 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal–his game has no counterpart on clay.
The way she’s serving and crafting defensive-yet-aggressive baseline points looks like another great clay-court champion: Novak Djokovic.
Just because Djokovic, the current world #1, has played in the same era as Nadal, doesn’t mean he not brilliant on clay. He’s collected 15 clay-court titles, including the 2016 French Open. Djokovic also has more wins on clay against Rafa than any other player on the planet with 7.
Here’s a little heads up: As Gauff continues to develop her game in a Nole-esque way, she may begin to dominate on clay. And unlike Djokovic, she doesn’t have to play Nadal.
Similarities between Coco Gauff and Novak Djokovic
Different from category of “serve,” the concept of “service” looks at this area of the game as a whole: Two distinct but connected shots. The way any player approaches the service has numerous choices–big first, slow second. Slice first, kick second. The way both Gauff and Djokovic approach service is unmistakable: Big first and big second. They’ve been observed clocking identical second serve speeds at Wimbledon (99 mph). Neither has a double fault problem, despite going big on the second serve. Djokovic is averaging around three per match, while Gauff averages about five per match. Not a concern at this point, especially since she’s winning titles.
Both Djokovic and Gauff can be considered aggressive baseliners with technically perfect two-handed backhands. Both have supreme defensive abilities. Gauff’s scrambling was on display when she made her torrid 2019 Wimbledon run at age 15. However, her sliding splits and balance on this clay season have been eerily reminiscent of Djokovic’s iconic “triangular core” balance moves (sometimes referred to as “Gumby”) on all surfaces. Gauff is looking lean and strong, also a hallmark of Djokovic’s fitness.
Underdog on Clay
The current odds for both Gauff and Djokovic to win Roland Garros are, perhaps, longer than they should be. Before her win in Parma, Gauff was +5500. That shot up to +2500 after her dominating 6-1, 6-3 performance against China’s Wang Qiang in the Parma final. Djokovic has decidedly better odds at +350, but he’s still a long way from the overwhelming favorite Nadal. As the 2021 edition of Roland Garros approaches, keep an eye on how Gauff is building her points on clay–with precision, power and margin. It bodes well for a long and successful clay-court career.
Main Photo from Getty.