Ten years ago, a nine year old girl from Delray Beach, Florida, accompanied her father to the US Open. There she excitedly observed a sport that she would soon whole-fully dedicate herself to in pursuit of becoming a champion.
She watched as one of her idols, Serena Williams, took home the women’s single tennis title at the 2013 international tennis match.
Ten years later, this little girl is now a global tennis sensation at 19 years old.
On Saturday, Cori Dionne “Coco” Gauff won the US Open’s Women’s Singles division. She is the first American winner since Sloane Stephens in 2017. Gauff’s name joins sports history as she enters a small record of women that earned the Grand Slam title while still in their teens. Up there is once again Gauff’s idol Serena Williams.
There are many similarities between the Gauff and the Williams sisters that showcase a familiar grit, dedication and domination in sports that we see with a lot of Black female athletes. Gauff is following swiftly in the Williams sisters’ footsteps, and proving herself to be the next legend in tennis.
Gauff also joins the Williams sisters, Althea Gibson and Sloane Stephens on the record of Black American women to win the US Open tennis matches. She often expresses how she has looked up to these female athletes throughout her promising career.
“I’m a product of their legacy and all the trials and tribulations they had to go through,” she said in an interview following her victory. “And I wouldn’t have this trophy if it wasn’t for them. And I don’t know-it’s really cool to see their names on this and know that mine is going to be cemented on here with them.”
Gauff’s final match was against the newest top ranked female tennis player, Aryna Sabalenka. Sabalenka had a strong start to the game with a form that initially put her up three points in the first set. Once Gauff calculated Sabalenka’s moves however and adjusted accordingly, she was unstoppable-taking charge of the second and third sets. ABC News noted that according to ESPN stats, the only other person to ever win a US Open tennis tournament title after losing the first final set was Serena Williams at 17.
At the end of Williams’ 1999 victory match, the star athlete rushed to her family and hugged her father and coach, Richard Williams. Yesterday while taking in all her glory, Gauff looked to her family during her on-court interview. She shouted out her father who is also her coach-saying it’s the first time she has ever seen her dad cry.
Gauff also wanted to thank those who didn’t believe in her.
“A month ago I won a 500 title and people said I would stop at that,” she said. “Two weeks ago I won a 1000 title and people were saying that was the biggest it was going to get. So three weeks later I’m here with this trophy right now. You know I’ve tried my best to carry this with grace and have been doing my best, so honestly to those who thought you were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it. And now I’m really burning so bright right now.”
Gauff continuously showcased a sense of grace, patience and professionalism that is admirable for anyone-but especially someone at her young age. In her semifinals match against Karolina Muchova, the game took an unusual turn when environmentalist activists intervened in the game. Someone had even glued their feet to the floor to protest fossil fuels. The protest display stalled the game for over 40 minutes.
When asked about her thoughts on the protest following the game, Gauff’s response was poised and genuine.
“I definitely believe in climate change,” she said afterward. “Moments like this are history-defining moments. Like I said, I prefer it not to happen in my match, but I wasn’t [mad] at the protesters.”
This US Open has truly pushed Gauff into the limelight. The little girl at the tournament 10 years ago is now a role model for future tennis protégées with much more to come in her career.