Anybody who followed high school sports in Palm Beach County in the late 1980s probably won’t be surprised to learn that 11-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff is one of the nation’s top 12-under tennis players.
Her father, Corey Gauff, was a star basketball player at Spanish River High School and played at Georgia State University. Her mother, Candi Odom Gauff, was a five-time state champion heptathlete at Delray Beach Atlantic High, ran track at FSU, and was also a competitive gymnast.
The Gauffs were at the Neil Schiff Tennis Center at the University of Miami on Monday afternoon, rooting for Coco as she faced top-seed Noa Krznaric of Croatia in the girls 12-Under semifinals in the Jr. Orange Bowl tennis tournament. Gauff was all too familiar with her Croatian opponent, as she had lost to her 6-3, 6-3 in the final of the Eddie Herr Tournament in Bradenton two weeks ago.
Despite her powerful groundstrokes and fighting spirit, Gauff fell short again, losing 6-4, 6-4 to the temperamental Krznaric, who cried and shrieked when she lost points, but prevailed at the critical moments.
“I missed a lot of shots today,” said Gauff, who trains in Delray Beach with Sly Black and Jeron Loglo. “But I played her better than the first time. I learned not to try to overpower her because she gets a lot of balls back.”
Krznaric said she benefited from beating Gauff a few weeks earlier. “I was better today, and I knew I could win because I won at Eddie Herr,” she said.
Gauff was in tears after the match, but her parents, who know a thing or two about winning and losing, consoled her. “We both help her, but her mom can really guide her because she did individual sports and helps her focus,” said Corey Gauff.
Krznaric’s final opponent is Daria Lopatetska of Ukraine, who beat Boca Raton-based American Charlotte Owensby 6-4, 6-3. Lopatetska recently moved to Miami Beach with coach Sergey Sitkovsky to develop her game.
“Miami is an incredible city, and this is an amazing tournament and I want to win the final very much,” Lopateteska said. “It is difficult to be so far from my family, but I had to do this for my tennis.”
Ninth-seeded Naomi Cheong of Las Vegas advanced to the U14 girls final, the only American to make the final in the boys and girls 14-under and 12-under divisions. A day after knocking off the top seed, Cheong outlasted Loudmilla Bencheikh of France 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the 14-Under girls semifinals.
Cheong will face No. 5 seed Marta Kotsyuk of Ukraine in the final. Kotsyuk also needed three sets to earn her spot in the final. She beat Yuki Naito of Japan 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-2.
In the boys 14s semifinals, powerful and charismatic top-seed Thiago Tirante of Argentina beat Timofey Skatov of Russia 6-4, 6-4. Tirante forced 12 break points, and converted five. He will play No. 2 seed Anton Matusevich of Great Britain in Tuesday’s final. Matusevich beat Korea’s Seon Yong Han 7-5, 7-5 in the semifinal.
Top seed Xiaofei Wang of China plays No. 8 seed Jewon Jeon of South Korea in the boys 12s final at Salvador Park.
The U14 finals and U12 girls finals are at UM, beginning at 9 a.m. Admission is free.