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From intensity to grace: Coco Gauff’s admiration for Rafael Nadal runs deep



It’s finally hit the reigning US Open women’s champion that Rafa’s career is winding down.

When Rafael Nadal was sent off by Mutua Madrid Open organizers with a special tribute ceremony last week, it was an understandably emotional scene. For it marked his final tour appearance at the Caja Magica.

As Coco Gauff took in the scene, it finally registered with her that the 22-time major champion’s career is winding down.

“It didn’t really hit that he was retiring yet. Now when I saw them do the little ceremony after, I was like this is real life, this is for real,” Gauff told press in Rome Tuesday.

The way Nadal carries out his work is one of the qualities that has resonated with so many fans throughout the years. Including Gauff, who singled him out as the one player that always commands her attention.

“His mentality and intensity is something I admire. Honestly, he’s probably the only player that when I practice on the court next to him, I would literally zone out of my practice to watch him,” she said.

“I’ve practiced next to some incredible players on tour. He’s the only one that my eye wonders to. No disrespect to other players, but it’s something about him and his aura and the intensity in which he does everything. It’s just something to me as a young player to look up to.”

It’s not just Nadal’s on-court demeanor that Gauff appreciates. It’s the details when the cameras aren’t rolling that add up, too.

“Just the grace he shows. He’s a very nice person. I remember last year at Roland Garros, he touched me on the back and said, ‘Hi, good job.’ I didn’t respond like till 20 tiles already down the stairs because I couldn’t believe he spoke to me,” recalled Gauff.

“I think it’s little things like that that I’ll miss seeing on tour.”

Gauff is looking to build up a wave of momentum heading into the Paris major. Coming off a fourth-round exit in Madrid at the hands of countrywoman Madison Keys, the 20-year-old is looking to make headway on one aspect of her game during her time at the Internazionali BNL D’italia.

“Last week, even though I lost 6-4 in the third, (I had) like 14 double-faults. This is like four or five games,” said the reigning US Open title holder. “I feel if I’m still close in these matches against Madi, who is like a top player, I think I just fix that detail, it will save me and maybe those matches would turn into winning in straight sets instead of losing in three sets.”

The world No. 3 will launch her campaign against the winner of Poland’s Magdalena Frech and countrywoman Ashlyn Krueger.

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