U.S Open officials plan to extend a wildcard to 15-year-old Wimbledon sensation Coco Gauff into the main draw in the coming weeks, The Post has learned.
However, if it does so, the Open would be ignoring the WTA’s age-eligibility rules for 15-year-olds.
According to the WTA rulebook that is adopted into USTA bylaws, a player can accept a maximum of three wildcards during her age-15 year. Gauff, the Florida-based prodigy, already has accepted her three wildcards: to the Miami Open, the French Open qualifiers (she didn’t advance) and the Wimbledon qualifiers.
“We would expect to see Coco in the main draw of the US Open,’’ USTA director of communications Chris Widmaier told The Post. “She certainly won the hearts of tennis fans in our country with her Wimbledon performance. It’s not every day an athlete of her age becomes water-cooler talk.‘’
When asked about Gauff exceeding the limit of three wildcards, Widmaier said he believes the Open will be “exempt.’’
“That’s my understanding,” Widmaier said.
A WTA spokesperson said the governing body will not intervene on the wildcard issue.
“The US Open, as a Grand Slam, reserves the right to not align with the Age Eligibility Rule and offer a player a Wild Card in excess of her limit per the Age Eligibility Rule,’’ the WTA spokesperson said.
The WTA is expected to count Grand Slam events, such as the U.S. Open (or the Australian Open in January), toward the total number of professional tournaments allowed for a 15-year-old. Under the age-eligibility bylaws, Gauff is only allowed to play 10 pro events from the time of her 15th birthday to her 16th birthday.
She’s already played seven pro tournaments since her birthday on March 13, but has received a merit bonus of two extra events, bringing the total number of events she can play before next March 13 to 12.
Gauff can earn an additional bonus of two tournaments to bring her allotment to 14. However, if she accepts an Open wildcard, she would forego the opportunity to receive bonus points toward that end. The WTA has left it open that Gauff potentially could decline the wildcard, stating she “may make a professional decision” to do so, and instead play the Open qualifiers.
Gauff’s ranking has zoomed to No. 141, which makes her eligible for the Open qualifiers without needing a wildcard. The qualifying tournament begins Aug. 19, the week before the main draw opens Aug. 26, and would command unprecedented attention if Gauff were entered. The event, which is free to the public, only has taken place on the Open’s sidecourts in the past.
The WTA drew up playing limitations on teenagers in the aftermath of Jennifer Capriati’s burnout in the mid-1990s. During Wimbledon, Roger Federer called for an overhaul of the age-eligibility rules. Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, also represents Gauff under the banner of the “Team8” agency, in which Federer has a stake.
At Wimbledon, Gauff tore through the qualifiers by winning three matches, and went on to become a worldwide phenomenon. She trounced Venus Williams in the first round and got to the Round of 16 before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep.
According to an industry source, Gauff is eyeing the Citi Open in Washington D.C., which begins July 27, as a U.S. Open tuneup if she qualifies into the main draw with her new ranking. She also might play one or two exhibitions.
“She went from being not on the radar in women’s tennis to being their biggest star,” tennis historian and former USTA staffer Randy Walker said. “She’s box office. The Open fans are going to go cuckoo for Coco.”