NEW YORK -- Rain was still drizzling from above, and the courts were soaked in puddles when fans noticed two familiar faces on the practice court. Play was still suspended due to the weather, and the grounds crew hadn't yet come out with brooms and dryers. But there they were laughing and joking, volleying the ball back and forth over the net. Just two teenage friends taking it all in.
They started to draw a crowd, huddled under the stands of the viewing area and peering through the privacy liner of the fence. A little girl who had to jump up to see squealed with excitement, "Mom, it's McCoco!"
Such excitement has been the standard this week for 15-year-old Coco Gauff and 17-year-old Caty McNally. The pair won the 2018 junior doubles title at the US Open and went on to win the Citi Open together in July. Having both qualified for Wimbledon earlier this summer, they each made their second major appearance in the main draw in Queens, and they teamed up again to play doubles.
Gauff became a household name after her fourth-round run at the All England Club. She has since been on the cover of Teen Vogue and landed a New Balance ad campaign. With the coining of the term "Coco-Mania," the native of Delray Beach, Florida, has been attracting attention wherever she goes. When a group of teenage girls gathered outside a midtown hotel where many of the players are staying this week, seemingly everyone who walked past asked if the crowd was for Gauff. It was actually for boy band Why Don't We, but the fact of the matter is it just as easily could have been for Gauff -- and more than a few people appeared disappointed to hear the truth.
Gauff followed her success at Wimbledon by advancing to the third round in singles at the US Open. She fell to Naomi Osaka but became an even bigger sensation with an incredible moment of sportsmanship between Osaka and Gauff after the match. McNally, who lost in the first round at Wimbledon, made a splash of her own, becoming the first player in history to take a set off of Serena Williams in the second round at Flushing Meadows. McNally lost but raised more than a few eyebrows along the way.
When they both were eliminated from singles play, Gauff and McNally mentioned how excited they were to play doubles with each other. Although singles is the priority for most -- and for them as well -- they took their other opportunity to remain in the tournament seriously. Seeing as they hadn't lost a tournament together in two previous tries, they believed they had a chance to win it all.
For two incredible matches, it seemed like they might have been on to something. They beat the far more experienced teams of Julia Goerges and Katerina Siniakova 7-6 (6), 6-2 and Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke 6-3, 7-6 (9). Their first match on Court 5 had hundreds of people waiting, so their second-round match was on Louis Armstrong in front of a packed stadium. Little girls held signs that read, "We love you, McCoco," and chants and cheers for the two were frequently heard.
"Playing yesterday on Louis Armstrong with Coco, that was really fun," McNally said Monday when asked about her most memorable moments of the tournament. "Just the crowd and all the support we got was unbelievable."
After the rain delay on Labor Day, the American duo finally took the court at Grandstand, several hours after initially expected, to face Victoria Azarenka and Ashleigh Barty, two former No. 1 singles players who have won Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles. Fans were lined up around the upper concourse, filling every inch of empty space.
Ultimately, the teenagers' inexperience showed, and Azarenka and Barty, who won the 2018 doubles title with CoCo Vandeweghe, overpowered and outmatched Gauff and McNally from the start. Azarenka and Barty won 6-0, 6-1 in 48 minutes. The crowd was stunned into silence at times but cheered loudly for every point won by the teens. When it was over, McCoco received a huge ovation in appreciation of their week in New York.
Despite the lopsided final result, neither Gauff nor McNally said she believed experience, or lack thereof, played a factor in the match's result.
"I think that just today wasn't the best day for Caty and I," Gauff said. "We didn't start off good, and I guess that momentum kind of dragged on the whole match. But, I mean, obviously it is a little bit of a different level because it's the first match we lost. I think we'll get it next time."
Perhaps what has endeared them to so many, aside from their amazing play, has been the unabashed teenage confidence and fearlessness. They have entered every match they have played, in singles and doubles, and truly believed they could win. They have celebrated accordingly -- together jumping up for a side bump after a match or set victory. To most, it seems, none of this behavior is audacious. It is instead inspiring.
Gauff and McNally's friendship appears to be genuine, and they look to be having fun together on the court and off. In media conferences, they don't exactly finish each other's sentences, but they often exchange looks and laughs and act their ages -- in the best possible way.
"Our friendship is great," Gauff said Monday before laughing as she continued. "I'm a little bit annoying. Like today, I had so much energy before our match, I was talking so much to Caty. She was kind of listening but not really.
"But on court, I mean, I think it shows that we have good chemistry. A lot of the times, I know what Caty is doing without us even communicating to each other. I think that's really hard to, I guess, teach or learn. I think that's just maybe because we're on the same age, I don't know. I think having a relationship off-court definitely helps us on the court."
While it was already clear that we would be seeing a lot more of Gauff and McNally in the future on tour, it looks like we'll be seeing a lot more of #McCoco going forward as well.
"Yeah, definitely," McNally said in response to a question about their future as a doubles team. "I mean, this is only our third tournament together. We play so well together. There's no reason why we would stop."