Coco Gauff column on playing Emma Raducanu at Australian Open, boxing and forming friendships

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Coco Gauff, who shot to fame by reaching the Wimbledon last 16 as a 15-year-old in 2019, is the latest leading WTA Tour player to write a BBC Sport column.

In her second piece at the Australian Open, the American seventh seed discusses facing Britain’s Emma Raducanu in a blockbuster second-round match on Wednesday.

Facing a Grand Slam champion like Emma Raducanu so early in a major is not ideal, but like my dad always says: ‘To be the best you have to beat the best’.

To help me follow in Emma’s footsteps and win a Slam, I added a new activity into my pre-season training – boxing.

My fitness trainer wanted me to box to help improve balance and so I went down to a gym near where I live in Florida.

I’m not a fighter – even though I have trained in the past with Mike Tyson. If someone came up and punched me I would be out first punch!

The pre-season training was in a proper gym where there were professional fighters training and whenever they would come to watch I was talking really loud – like, ‘yeah my tennis tournament’ – so they knew I wasn’t a fighter.

I didn’t want them to think this girl is trash and is going to get whooped! I wanted them to know this is not what I do.

Some of them knew who I was – and I was wearing my tennis gear to make the point – but I definitely wanted to make sure they knew I wasn’t cut out for this.

They were all very nice people but they were slightly intimidating at first and were watching me. I was like ‘guys, I don’t do this, I play tennis’, I’m the furthest away from this sport that I could be.

The boxing instructor is a fighter and he said I improved in the three weeks I did with him.

When he told me I improved I was like ‘yes finally’ because I looked so bad at the start. So that made me really happy.

I also got to do it with my brother Codey so it was nice bonding with him. He thinks he’s a fighter so I enjoyed trying to beat him up!

Adding in other sports makes the pre-season more enjoyable. I grew up playing multiple sports – basketball, gymnastics, track – so I wanted to go back to my roots and try different things.

As well as boxing, I did some swimming. For me, swimming is one of those things which gets me the most tired.

I can run forever and do a lot of things forever, but swimming I feel like I’m done after two laps.

So my fitness coach Stephane is trying to find extra ways to get me tired and do extra cardio because my heart rate doesn’t stay high for long.

Hopefully I will be in the game for another 20 years and so you have to make it fun and change it up.

Pre-season is a chance to do that, there are ways to make it enjoyable and also work hard on something. That’s what I think we found this pre-season.

It was really tough for me, but it was nice to step away from the court and the gym.

Why I think finding friends on tour is important

Some people might think seeing Emma win the US Open at such a young age may have made me jealous or envious. It didn’t. It was inspiring more than anything else.

I can relate to bursting on to the scene and dealing with the pressure that follows, but I don’t think that was anywhere near to the level of attention Emma received.

After beating Katerina Siniakova in my first-round match in Melbourne I went online and I found out I was playing Emma. She is having an incredible career so far and I think she is still finding her way on tour.

With her being my age, I talk to her pretty much at all the tournaments. I always try to chat and when she picked up the ankle injury in Auckland I reached out to see how she was doing.

I try to look out for people when they’re joining the tour because I know how different a life it is. Emma has a great head on her shoulders and I think she is doing great.

We’ve not really had the chance to talk about anything outside of tennis, what common interests we might have, or anything like that.

Most of the time when I see her is at a tournament and we’re both trying go to practice, or coming from practice, or going to matches. It is difficult to really get into those conversations and I haven’t really hung out with her off the court.

Coco Gauff won six doubles titles with her good friend Jessica Pegula last season – both are among the favourites to win the women’s singles at Melbourne Park

I definitely think it is important to have friends on tour because you’re around these people every week. These are also your co-workers.

You don’t want them to hate you and you don’t want to hate them. Why would anybody want to be around hateful people every week?

My biggest friends are Caty McNally, Jessica Pegula, Christopher Eubanks, Taylor Townsend – pretty much mostly Americans who I know and get along with very well.

We have a fun group and we all root for each other. That’s what I look for the most, people who genuinely want to see you do well.

Of course, equally you can’t be friends with everyone because there are a lot of players. And it can be weird when you play one of your friends – I remember playing Jess in Dubai and it was a horrendous match.

Even though I talk to Emma a lot, I wouldn’t say we are close friends.

But whoever you’re playing, whether it is a friend, or a Grand Slam champion, you’ve just got to block out who is on the opposite side of the net. That’s what I will have to do on Wednesday.

Coco Gauff was talking to BBC Sport’s Jonathan Jurejko at Melbourne Park.

Coco’s previous columns from Melbourne

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