As Brad Gilbert entered the players’ lounge at Cincinnati’s Western & Southern Open, he did not bring a particular gravitas with him when he settled into his seat.
When Carlos Alcaraz came in, AirPods in, politely asking for a blanket, it was clear that he was still getting used to the fame. When Coco Gauff came in, she was locked in, unsmiling, headphones on. Even when coaches of various players came in with their teams, they would have an air of importance, chatting in some foreign language, drawing on a tablet. Not this guy that just sauntered in. He looked like someone’s grandfather, maybe.
You would never guess that the man was a renowned player who became known as one of the greatest coaches tennis has ever seen.
As he talked, it became clear that he was not just another trainer. “I’ve been coming [to this tournament] for almost 40 years, as a player, coach, and commentator,” he said. This time around, he was here coaching the 19-year-old Gauff, attempting to jumpstart a stagnant but hugely promising career.
As a player, Gilbert won a gold medal at the Olympics and achieved a career-high ranking of No. 4. As a coach, though, is where he really created his legacy. Coaching Andre Agassi for six of his eight Grand Slam Titles, along with stints with Andy Murray and Andy Roddick, and now attempting to develop Gauff into a superstar, Gilbert has established himself as an all-time tennis great.
Gilbert has been particularly successful at the Cincinnati Masters (which has since been branded by Western & Southern) throughout his career. “I’ve had an amazing experience here as a player, a coach, and a commentator,” said Gilbert. “This may be one of the most successful places that I’ve had.” In his heyday, he engineered famous upsets of Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg at this tournament, winning it in 1989. As a coach, he helped Andre Agassi to three Cincinnati titles, Andy Roddick to one, and Coco Gauff to one (and counting). When Gilbert split with Agassi in 2002, Agassi called him “clearly the greatest coach of all time.”
Gilbert’s success in coaching stems from his cerebral nature and attention to detail. Even in the players’ lounge, Gilbert was always thinking. We conversed about Beemok Capital’s purchase of the tournament and the threat of relocation to Charlotte. “With expansion… bigger courts, other events, in 2025, [profit] might go to 250 million,” Gilbert said. Whenever I said a statistic or number, Gilbert was always thinking about the next step, something he gained a reputation for on the tennis court.
Gilbert got on board to coach Coco Gauff in August 2023, right before the Cincinnati tournament, and there has been a noticeable improvement in her game since. She has become virtually unstoppable. Upon winning the Cincinnati Masters, Gauff went on to win her first major, the U.S. Open, in dominant fashion immediately after.
Before Gilbert was on board, Coco Gauff had been hyped as the next Serena Williams ever since she took the world stage at 15 years old. But in the four years since then, her career was a tale of disappointing results at Majors. Following a rocky 2023 with a first-round Wimbledon loss to Sofia Kenin the final straw, Gauff’s team began making calls looking for some veteran leadership. Lucky for her, then-ESPN commentator Gilbert was looking to get back in the coaching game with a promising American, and Gauff fit that bill. He has called her “a super kid.” Though most of the tweaks have occurred behind closed doors, it is no secret that Gilbert’s strategic, analytical approach is yielding results.
The coaching shift has transformed Gauff from a consistent first-round disappointment into the superstar she has been hyped up to be for so long, and Gilbert’s name has not been lost in the media whirlwind. His former players have been quick to praise the move for Gauff, with Roddick calling Gilbert “a master tactician.” After winning his lone Grand Slam with Gilbert at the helm, tennis fans see similarities between the hype that once surrounded Roddick now moving to the next great American tennis thing in Gauff. On the US Open’s website, British tennis legend Andy Murray also described Gilbert’s style: “He loved discussing matchups, how to get to people’s weaknesses, just understanding how to win, really.” Winning ugly is a mantra for Gilbert, and his book titled that is now a foundational piece of tennis literature.
Gauff has felt Gilbert’s presence shift her approach to matches as well. Gauff said, “With [Gilbert], I feel like I have a lot more confidence in my game.” The confidence shows, even for viewers: on the court Gauff throughout the Cincinnati Masters and even more so in the U.S. Open dictates the tempo of the game. Gauff is now going into the final stretch of the year with a world ranking of No. 3 and a chance to claim the No. 1 spot for the first time at the WTA finals.
Talking about tennis or not, Gilbert dove into the intricacies— from talking about Beemok Capital and Ben Navarro’s recent 300 million dollar purchase of the tournament to the impressive transformation of the Mason, Ohio suburb the tournament is located in.
I would have loved to talk with Gilbert for longer, and I think he could have kept talking for hours, but he eventually had to leave the player’s lounge. After all, he had to coach Gauff in her semifinal match later that evening. If there was any doubt about the Gilbert Effect, she ended up winning the whole thing.