Coco Gauff loves the inner "dog" in Jimmy Butler's basketball game and hopes the Miami Heat star saw plenty to admire about her own tenacity as she made a positive start at the Miami Open.
Winning 6-4 6-3 against Canadian Rebecca Marino got Gauff off the mark at this fortnight's WTA 1000 tournament, with the 19-year-old American very much at home in Florida.
Butler was watching at courtside, and the 33-year-old was so close Gauff could hardly ignore his presence.
"I mean, he was right next to my towels. I had no choice but to see him," Gauff said.
Gauff is a fan of the Heat, so to be watched by six-time NBA All-Star Butler was flattering for the teenager.
She is a high achiever herself, reaching the French Open final last year and setting up camp in the WTA top 10 rankings, so there was mutual respect, and the pair met up after Thursday's match.
"It was really cool because I love watching the Heat, they're my team. He has just that mentality, that dog in him, something that I really admire a lot," Gauff said. "I always do that when I'm on the court, but I was, like, I hope he sees that in me."
Gauff also spoke about having met players from the Buffalo Bills, the NFL franchise owned by world number three Jessica Pegula's parents.
"They might have been here for Jess, but I'm glad they stayed to watch my match," Gauff said.
Pegula beat Katherine Sebov in the match directly after Gauff's clash on the Stadium court.
"Jimmy Butler is here so I was a little bit nervous when I saw him!" @JimmyButler @CocoGauff @MiamiHEAT | #MiamiOpen pic.twitter.com/Eve2Nf8Gbx— wta (@WTA) March 23, 2023
Gauff said it was a "privilege" to be watched by fellow sports stars.
"I think it means more than maybe an actor or singer watching me, because it's like, as an athlete, finding the time to appreciate other sports is really hard," she said. "For them to want to do that, especially for a sport like tennis, which generally most of them don't understand, is really cool."
Gauff next faces Anastasia Potapova, the Russian player who beat Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk at the last-64 stage.
That match was notable largely for Kostyuk's refusal to shake hands afterwards with Potapova, a player who earlier this month was warned by the WTA for wearing a Spartak Moscow jersey at Indian Wells.
Russian and Belarusian players are competing under a neutral flag on the WTA Tour this season, amid the continuing invasion of Ukraine.