The 15-year-old rising star tells PEOPLE she's "super excited" for her first U.S. Open

By Lindsay Kimble
August 23, 2019 01:01 PM

While many teens all over the United States are preparing to go back to school, 15-year-old Coco Gauff is getting in her final practice sessions before the 2019 U.S. Open.

The rising young tennis star will compete in her first U.S. Open main draw next week as a wild card player — meaning that she has gained entry to the main tournament without playing in the qualifiers.

Speaking to PEOPLE at the Lotte New York Palace’s the Palace Invitational in Manhattan on Thursday, Gauff says she’s “super excited” and hopes to “make the best of this opportunity.”

Earlier this year, Gauff — a Florida high schooler — became the youngest player to qualify for Wimbledon. She made headlines when she defeated five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in an impressive 2019 debut against the 39-year-old veteran player.

Cori "Coco" Gauff
Credit: Jamie McCarthy/Getty

The transition to overnight sensation, she says, has been challenging: “When I was younger, I was just dreaming about winning tournaments and winning slams I guess, and I didn’t think about all that would come with it. So like, I guess I had time to mentally prepare for the winning but not necessarily the off the court.”

She adds, “But honestly, I’m just grateful that I’ve been given the platform and I hope that I’m able to use this platform in the right way.”

Cori "Coco" Gauff
Credit: Jamie McCarthy/Getty

And though she’s just a teenager, she’s far from the average one — but Gauff says her “friends make it so easy. They’ll schedule things around like my schedule. I have a great friend group around me, so that part isn’t too difficult.”

So the athlete rarely spends moments wishing she was “quote unquote normal.”

“I don’t feel like I’m missing out,” she says of being a regular high school student. “I just always wonder what it will be like, but I feel like, this is a life that I’m working for. And like every time I just think about, ‘Wow, I’m in Paris, I’m in New York.’ Yeah. How can I like not enjoy my life right now? And I’m only 15, and there’s so many things I want to do besides tennis and right now it’s just, I guess, learning the right way to do that.”

She does have one thing in common with some of her less athletically-dominant peers — Gauff loves watching YouTube videos, especially before a match.

“Maybe an hour or two before the match, I’m usually watching YouTube,” she tells PEOPLE, explaining that it’s typically comedy videos before noting lately that she’s been catching up on MTV’s Catfish. “I like to be in like a happy mood.”