If a teenage prodigy causes upset after upset by defeating some of the most prominent names in a sport, it makes for an incredible story. American tennis player Cori Gauff, fondly called ‘Coco’, is the protagonist here, and she has been inspirational, to say the least.
At the ongoing Mecca of tennis tournaments, Wimbledon, her first round 6-4-6-4 win came against someone she idolised growing up — the 44th-ranked Venus Williams. In the second round, she beat the 139th-ranked Slovak, 30-year-old 2017-Wimbledon semi-finalist, Magdalena Rybarikova, without losing a single set. Then, in her third round, the teenager bested the 60th-ranked 28-year-old Polona Hercog in a thrilling tiebreaker (3-6, 7-6(7), 7-5). All this, while she’s been ranked 313th (although she might break into the WTA Top 200 after the Magdalena win).
However, her winning streak at Wimbledon came to an end after she lost in the quarterfinals to World no. 7 (and former no. 1) Simona Halep in straight sets (6-3, 6-3). Despite that defeat, the world has stopped and taken notice of Coco’s big breakthrough. Sports tabloids and Twitterati especially are in awe of her tenacity and calm perseverance on court.
Exceptional ground strokes, serves clocking 118mph, the poise with which she plays, Coco is a gifted player by any yardstick, but her age makes her quite the spectacle. She’s the youngest player in the Open era to have qualified to compete in Wimbledon (this year’s youngest male player is three years older). There have been others younger than her who have made the main draw, but they were direct entrants.
Coco’s young age has not been a deterrent during her three grueling duels with high-ranked opponents. After her win against Venus, Coco also became the youngest woman to win a match at the All England Club venue. The teenager’s wins have not just been restricted to grass courts, but the crowd seems to be supporting her with undying enthusiasm while her poise on the court is earning the admiration of opponents. Slovenian opponent Polona summarised Coco best as someone “probably older in her head than the numbers show.”
And yet, in some ways, Coco is no different from your average 15-year-old. For instance, when popular singer-songwriter Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles, shared a video of hers on Instagram with a caption that read, “Yesssss 15 years old!!!!!!!she won!!!!!!! Humble, Gives God the praise !! Winning combo!!!! (sic)”, the teenager was absolutely thrilled.
She replied to the post, “WOOOOWWWWW I AM SO BLESSED (sic),” with a level of excitement best represented by the usage of all-caps.
Another adorable episode was when Coco’s mother gained a bit of Internet fame with a video that showcased the parent enthusiastically waving her arms in support of her daughter’s play. Like any millennial, Coco recognised the ‘meme-worthiness’ of this motherly display. While in many ways, it appears that Coco is no different from us, she may just become the best tennis player in the world one day.
The best, bested
Nothing beats the feeling of handing a defeat to someone you have looked up to your entire life, that too in their craft. Coco has always admired the Williams sisters, especially Serena. Before her match against Venus, the 15-year-old told Time that the sisters have been great role models, and that her game is even slightly modelled after theirs. She couldn’t wait to see how it felt to be on the same court as them. She was quite unfazed about the prospect though, commenting, “I don’t really think that would be too hard (the win against Venus) because I really want to win. But, at the end of the match, I am still gonna love her and look up to her no matter what happens.”
And once she did hand the 39-year-old legend a defeat, it was quite an emotional moment for her. “Honestly, I don’t really know how to feel. This was the first time I ever cried after a match. I never thought this would happen. I’m literally living my dream right now. And not many people get to say that. I’m just happy that Wimbledon gave me the opportunity to play,” Coco said after the match to several publications including the CNBC.
Even older, far more experienced sportspersons feel the pressure at a stage as prestigious as Wimbledon. Coco had to mentally prepare for this. “I had to remind myself that the lines on the court are the same size. Everything around it might be bigger, but the lines are the same. After every point, I was just telling myself to stay calm,” she had told USA Today.
Her dad-coach, Corey Gauff (a former university basketball player), had been instrumental with regard to this aspect, and has worked hard on refining her poise.
1 She started playing tennis when she was seven years old.
2 With her ranking (313th), Coco couldn’t have gotten into Wimbledon. But she was handed a wild card five days before her qualifiers.
3 As serious about her academics as she is about tennis, Coco sat up late into the night the day before her final-round of the qualifiers to take a science test for school.
4 She had won the ITF French Open title when she was 14 years old.
5 At 13, Coco was the youngest-ever girls’ runner-up at the ITF US Open in 2017.
6 Team 8, an agency co-founded by Roger Federer, represents her.
7 Coco trains part-time at Mouratoglou Academy in Paris, which is run by Serena Williams’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
8 When she was around 10 years old, Coco’s family moved from Atlanta to Florida for her tennis training.
9 This Wimbledon, Coco’s already earned about £175,000 (Rs 1.5 crore) in prize money.