Damian Stack: Coco Gauff’s breakthrough is just what tennis needs


The American is one of those rare sportspeople easily recognisable solely by their first name.

There’s a certain something that women’s tennis has been missing for a while now: somebody with star quality. Somebody with that ability to reach out beyond the tennis milieu to the wider culture, to act as an ambassador of sorts for the sport.
With her first Grandslam title now secure that’s what Coco Gauff has, that’s what she can be for the game of tennis. A transcendent talent with the personality to match, an almost readymade brand, summed up in just four letters: Coco.

To be easily identifiable by just her first name puts her amongst a fairly rarefied elite: Lewis, Rory, Tiger… Serena. The comparison between her and possibly the greatest ever women’s tennis player might seem a little premature. Undoubtedly, though, they share that something special.

On court and off it Gauff is just one of those sportspeople that just demands your attention. Ever since she broke through into the public’s consciousness as a fifteen-year-old at Wimbledon four years ago, we’ve just been waiting for this moment.

The desire to see her make that long-awaited major success only grew in Williams’ absence from the top of the sport (and now into retirement), as there was nobody else there to take up that mantle of leadership.

None of the players – with the exception, perhaps, of Emma Raducanu, who disappeared pretty much as soon as she’d arrived, and Naomi Osaka – who’ve risen to the top of the rankings in Williams’ place, could ever quite fill the vacuum left behind by her.

Iga Swiatek, Ash Barty (now also retired), and Aryna Sabalenka are all fine players, but they don’t exactly, you know, stir the soul. Saturday evening’s final was a fair distillation of that. Gauff was the easily the more interesting, exciting, expressive player.

We don’t mean that as a knock on Sabalenka, even if it reads that way. It’s just that once Gauff figured out her game – and the Belorussian powered into a one-set lead – she didn’t seem able to switch up what it was she was doing to counter the American.

Gauff’s ability to think on the fly, to work around problems, that’s the real mark of a champion. At just nineteen years of age too, you’ve got to think the sky’s the limit for the Floridian superstar.

Even though she’s still young, she’s been on tour already for four years, this is of those overnight successes years in the making. You’d hope that nothing that follows now, the adulation, the fame, the scrutiny, will come as much of a surprise to her, unlike it did say for Emma Raducanu.

The Briton’s success at Flushing Meadows two years ago was a bolt from the blue – even after a very promising run in Wimbledon that summer – in a way that Gauff’s simply was not.

Gauff not only had those years of experience and build-up, she also had a really strong late summer run on hard-courts in the US before rocking up for the Open in New York. Never say never, but this really doesn’t feel like a flash in a pan type deal here.

No, Coco is here to stay and the game of tennis is all the better for it. Compared to the bruising men’s final the following day, Saturday evening’s fare was far more compelling. At long last that Serena-shaped gap in tennis has been filled.

No spark, no fizz, it’s the end of the affair

If it’s the hope that gets you the job, when it’s taken away it’s the hope that kills you. Just ask Stephen Kenny.

The former Dundalk boss was ushered into the Republic of Ireland hot-seat on a wave of goodwill, excitement and, yes, hope. Hope that things could be different, hope that Ireland club play a better style of football and in doing so become more competitive as a result.

Three years in and results have been as rare as hen’s teeth, while the more positive football promised has been patchy at best. It all adds up to this feeling that the Tallaght man has run out of road, even amongst those who were his most vociferous backers (probably ourselves included). The boos at the full-time whistle on Sunday evening telling a tale.

There’s an almost careworn feel to the whole project. The buzz is gone, to be replaced by an impatience and a growing annoyance with the idea that progress is being made – is it really? – and that in time the tide will turn – will it?

That we’re in the dog days of the Kenny-era seems unquestionable now, and one gets the sense that the man himself knows it too, even as he puts up a fairly good front of it in his public utterances.

It’s hard not to have a certain amount of sympathy for the Republic of Ireland manager. He’s had very little luck, Evan Ferguson’s injury rather summing that up, and he was already trying to bring Ireland from a very low-base.

Even then whatever initial progress he made by bringing through a lot of fresh-faced footballers has stalled if not even ebbed a little bit. Some of that is down to players not pushing on at club level, but even so Ireland don’t feel like they’re getting the most out of what they have.

Still, it’s hard not to look at the draw for this group and think that Kenny was handed a particularly sticky wicket. Three past European Championship-winning countries, one them those, France, arguably the finest team in the world at present. There’s an argument to be made that Kenny’s fate was sealed the moment the draw was made.

And, yet, Ireland were disappointing in Athens, plus they didn’t make the most of the position they found themselves in against the Dutch in Lansdowne Road on the weekend. At a certain point, as the sign on Harry Truman’s desk read, the buck stops here.

The buck stops with Stephen Kenny. He’s had a decent run at it – two Nations Leagues, a World Cup qualifying and a European Championships qualifying campaign (and a play-off for Euro 2020) – during his three-year term in charge, so he can have few complaints.

That doesn’t stop it being something of a shame, not just for him, but for everyone who backed him, everybody who had renewed hope for Irish football. It’s not to say either that his tenure has been a complete bust.




He’s brought through something like twenty Under 21 players to the first-team ranks, whoever is next in the door (Lee Carsley, the former Republic of Ireland international and successful England Under 21 coach, seems the favourite) will greatly benefit from that endeavour.



Whatever happens one would hope that the rupture between Kenny and the FAI isn’t poisonous, leading to a Brian Kerr-style exile. Whatever his failings as senior boss, Kenny’s still got plenty to offer Irish football.

Addition of a Joe Mac semi-final is a sound idea

We’ve said to before on these pages and, no doubt, we’ll say it again: the Joe McDonagh Cup is an absolutely fantastic competition.




The quality of the hurling is far better than any second tier competition has right to be, and what’s more the competitive balance is so finely poised that on given day any side can beat any other.




It makes for compelling viewing – for relatively small number of people who follow it – offering counties meaningful competition against peer counties in a manner now replicated by the Tailteann Cup.




The Joe Mac is such a good competition that we’d be fairly loathe to mess around under the hood with it too much for fear of mucking it up. Still we can’t find any fault with the proposal put forward for the Special Congress scheduled for the end of this month in Croke Park.



The CCCC (Central Competitions Control Committee) has proposed that instead of a straight final between the top two sides, that instead the top placed side will go straight through to the final, with second and third positions battling it out for a place in the final.




It’s essentially the same format as Division 2A of the National Hurling League with the nice carrot for the side who finish second in home advantage. It works really well in the league, so why not the championship?




The proposal should ensure we don’t end up with too any dead rubbers – such as Kerry’s game with Laois last May – so it should be a marginal improvement if anything.



The only real draw back we can see is that the team which comes through the semi-final will probably be slightly better placed to win the final than the top side as has happened a couple times in Division 2A in the last couple of years.


Still that’s probably more of a statistical outlier as anything else, certainly not reason enough to go against this proposal. It’s hard to see delegates not backing the measure, quite honestly.










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