DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – It was an exhibition match, but it certainly didn’t feel that way.
In what was perhaps the most anticipated exhibition match in the history of the Delray Beach Open, Coco Gauff defeated Estela Perez-Somarriba 6-3, 6-3 on Saturday night in her homecoming debut.
Gauff has quickly become a household name, just a few weeks removed from her success at the Australian Open and Wimbledon before that.
But yet the 15-year-old remains humble as her profile rises and grateful for the support she’s received from the residents of the city where she lives.
There was plenty of support for her Saturday night on the main court at the Delray Beach Tennis Center -- the same facility where she grew up practicing.
“It feels great to play in front of my family and friends who haven’t gotten to see me play live at anytime in my life,” Gauff said after the match.
Gauff and her opponent made history by becoming the first female participants in the 22-year history of the tournament.
“I don’t put much pressure on myself,” Gauff said. “I just go out there to have fun and see what happens. I mean, today was definitely a lot more relaxed situation than I’m used to.”
It’s probably easy to feel relaxed playing in front of a partisan crowd.
The same could have been said about Perez-Somarriba, whose coaches and teammates made the trek north from Coral Gables to cheer on the defending singles national champion. The occasional cheers for “Stella” could be heard from a pocket of spectators.
“It means the world to me,” the Madrid native said of representing Miami in the match. “The University of Miami, they’ve been my family for the last four years and if I’m here today, it’s because of them. My teammates, my coaches, they’ve been supporting me for the last years so much, and, yes, I’m just so grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”
Throughout the match, Gauff and Perez-Somarriba could be heard joking with each other and taking their missteps in stride.
“It seemed like both of us had fun,” Gauff said.
Although there was plenty of fanfare for both players during the match, Gauff had, by far, the bigger following.
Children held tennis balls and magazines on which Gauff graced the cover, hoping to snag an autograph from arguably the hottest player in the game.
She didn’t let them down.
After the match, Gauff was far from elusive, taking the time to sign autographs, pose for selfies and toss autographed tennis balls into the crowd of fans.
“I was actually a little bit nervous for today just because of the crowd,” she said. “You know, you don’t want to let your hometown down. It’s definitely different. I’ve played in a couple of exhibitions, but this one definitely felt a lot different to my previous ones.”
Gauff, who said she grew up a Hurricanes fan, was also complimentary of her opponent.
“She’s going pro, so I’m sure I’m going to see her and probably play her in a non-exhibition match when we’re both a little bit more serious,” Gauff said.