At just 15 years old, Cori “Coco” Gauff took the tennis world by storm when she beat Venus Williams, a 7-time Grand Slam champion, at Wimbledon this year. Instead of heading off to her first day of classes at the end of August, like any other high schooler, she played to a sold out crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the third round of the US Open against 21 year old Naomi Osaka, the No. 1 ranked female tennis player in the world and a 2-time Grand Slam champion. The pressure on both of them was immense. Osaka, the defending US Open Champion, was favored to win, while Gauff, ranked No. 140 in the world, was a talented young player showing no fear. Although Gauff lost, 6-3, 6-0, it was a momentous occasion for both players.
Gauff was born on March 13, 2004 to two athletic parents who encouraged her to try various sports. She chose tennis because she thought the Williams sisters were amazing and because it was an individual sport. At 14 years old, Gauff became the youngest No. 1 ranked girls’ junior player in the world. She won the girls’ 2018 French Open Grand Slam junior championship, was runner-up at the 2017 US Open, and won the girls’ doubles 2018 French Open Grand Slam junior title with Caty McNally. Based on these accomplishments, it came as no surprise that Gauff excelled in her first year of professional competition.
Although many have said that the match itself was not that memorable, what happened when the match was over was unforgettable. Osaka convinced a teary Gauff to stay for the post game interview where she voiced her feelings towards Gauff: “I remember I used to see you guys training in the same place as us, and, for me, the fact that both of us made it, and we’re both still working as hard as we can, it’s incredible. I think you guys are amazing, and Coco, I think you’re amazing.” Osaka’s comment brings light to an important conversation in the world of tennis: representation. Even with players as well known as Serena Williams on the scene, the rise of Osaka as a player and the attention that Gauff has received in the last few months has given a new audience a look into a sport that has not historically been diverse.
The two exchanged words on the court, showing the crowd how athletes should act. In Gauff’s words, “For me, the definition of an athlete is someone who on the court treats you like they’re your worst enemy, but off the court can be your best friend. I think that’s what she did tonight.” Both players are still very young and have many more years of tennis ahead of them. While Osaka has already topped the tennis world, Gauff’s performance suggests that, one day, she will climb the ranks to become a grand slam champion as well.