Delray Beach’s Nico Godsick plays tennis with Coco Gauff, trains with Roger Federer

DELRAY BEACH — Playing points with Coco Gauff at the Delray Beach Tennis Club was awesome. Training with Roger Federer in Switzerland and warming him up for US Open matches was otherworldly.

Nico Godsick is only 18, but already has had the most unique tennis journey a  prodigy can ever have. He moved from Cleveland to Delray four years ago.

His father, Tony Godsick, a Manhattan native and former Dartmouth football player, was Federer’s agent since Nico was in diapers.

Nico’s mother, Mary Joe Fernandez, was a tennis prodigy of her own, bursting on the scene as a 13-year-old to win a match at the US Open. She’s now a tennis broadcaster for ESPN.

“My life growing up was being around Roger,’ Nico Godsick said in an interview this week at the Starbucks in downtown Delray Beach on Atlantic Avenue, a five-minute walk from his house. “I learned a tremendous amount. He’s always been there with advice. It was surreal.’’

Since the family moved to Palm Beach County in 2020, Godsick has been coached by noted Boca Raton-based Diego Moyano, who has worked with many of South Florida’s tennis studs: Gauff, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, Frances Tiafoe and, now-injured, Reilly Opelka.

Nico attended public school in Cleveland until freshman year when he went private right before moving to Florida.  He has switched to online classwork since arriving here. Lack of high-school classroom experience didn’t hurt his college bid.

Godsick is set to attend academic/tennis power Stanford in mid-September on scholarship after turning down Harvard, partly to stay in warm climes. “I didn’t want to practice indoors anymore like in Cleveland,’’ Godsick said.

Nico Godsick, left, and Roger Federer pose on a tennis court at Wimbledon in 2021.

Nico Godsick, left, and Roger Federer pose on a tennis court at Wimbledon in 2021.

Before he flies to Palo Alto, Calif., Godsick is being heavily considered as a wildcard for the US Open doubles event next week with partner, NCAA champion Ethan Quinn, who just turned pro after one year at Georgia.

Godsick and Quinn partnered in junior doubles for a few years and recently at pro events; They were US Open doubles wildcards last year in Queens and won a round.

The decision to start college instead of turning pro like Quinn was an easy one.

“It was never a discussion,” Godsick said. “I always was going to college unless I won four junior grand slams in a row and a couple of rounds of the US Open main draw. Education has always been No. 1 in my family. That’s why I was in public schools in Cleveland. Nowadays there’s nothing wrong going to college.’’

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“Novak Djokovic, Roger  and those guys have pushed longevity to another level,’’ Godsick added. “You can peak at 29 now. The majority of players my age aren’t yet strong enough. Four years in college, you get stronger and start playing your best tennis.’’

Godsick’s tennis education was something that can’t be bought. Besides Federer, Godsick hit dozens of times with Gauff, playing 11-point tiebreakers, and the world’s third-ranked women’s player, Jessica Pegula, who lives in Boca Raton.

Godsick happy for Coco Gauff’s success

Gauff’s agent is Nico’s father. Also 18, Coco heads to the Open as one of the favorites after winning two of the last three Open tune-ups – in Washington, D.C., and Cincinnati.

“She’s playing great – super happy to see her doing well,’’ Godsick said. “She’s a super nice girl.

“We have great practices. We don’t really play sets but play points. Sometimes just off the ground (rallies start without a traditional serve). When serve comes into play, that’s when you see the difference. But from the ground, Coco pushes me a lot. I don’t win every time. I get a lot out of it. I hope she does too.’’

As a favor, Federer would hit with his agent’s son to help his development. Then the script changed. They soon were practicing for Federer’s benefit.

“Idolizing Roger growing up, finally getting to hit with him  in a real practice, not just hitting with me for fun, but for Roger, I got to see why he is so great,’’ Godsick said.

At 15, Godsick spent two weeks in Federer’s native Switzerland to get him sharp before Wimbledon in 2019. That year, he warmed the Swiss Maestro up for his last US Open (quarterfinals).

In  2021, Godsick trained with Federer again in Switzerland before his clay-court comeback. Then he became his hitting partner for Federer’s last Wimbledon that year.

Godsick regards Federer as an unofficial coach.

“I got to see how Roger went about training, his discipline,’’ Godsick said. “At end of his career, he was laser focused because he didn’t have unlimited hours to practice. When he’s out there two hours to practice, every shot counts. His work ethic was always incredible. Every drill he went through, he gave 100 percent.’’

Federer routinely pointed out holes in Godsick’s tennis. Bluntly.

“Third day of training with him, he told me I already know your weaknesses,’’ Godsick said. “If you go here, I’ll go there. I see 15 different ways I can win a point against you. I saw how lethal his forehand and volley was. At times, he makes me feel terrible on the court because of the shots he threw at me.’’

As recently as three months ago, Federer, who retired in 2022 with 20 Grand Slam titles and mantle as most beloved player in history, changed Godsick’s grip on his volley. That stroke is Godsick’s strongest, which will always give him doubles to fall back on as a pro.

Godsick ‘s second best shot is a two-handed backhand. Ironically, as a youngster, Godsick wanted to have an old-school, one-handed backhand that Federer mastered with elegance.

“My mom wouldn’t let me,’’ Godsick said. “Growing up I wanted to do everything like Roger, serve like Roger, dress like Roger. When I was 8, I wanted to do it.’’

Godsick hasn’t determined a Stanford timetable.  John McEnroe went one year there and turned pro. Patrick McEnroe graduated, going all four years.  He’s spoken to both about Stanford.

“Whether I’m there one year or four years, it’s a great thing,’’ Godsick said. “If my tennis peaks when I’m 22 and a senior, great, I got to go four years to Stanford. If next year a jump is to be made and I’m strong enough, I’ll do so.

“I see how hard it is to make it on the tour. I don’t forget it. I am confident I’ll be able to be Top 100. To be Top 50 would be amazing. But I’ll never give up on the ultimate tennis goal of winning a Slam. If it happens, it happens. I just want to be comfortable I gave it my best go.’’

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Nico Godsick hopes Gauff, Federer help him earn wildcard for US Open doubles

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