detail-1 Coco Gauff
#3

Coco Gauff

Birthday:
2004-03-15
Gender:
female
Nationality:
United States
Height:
178
Ranking:
3
Residence:
Delray Beach, USA

It was an apprenticeship that lasted four-and-a-half years. When Coco Gauff burst onto the scene in early 2019 just after her 15th birthday, and then beat Venus Williams on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, the expectations for the likeable and eloquent young woman from Florida were massive. But she finally justified them in September 2023 when she joined the Grand Slam roll of honour by winning the women’s singles at the US Open.

Results

Winner

Singles
Year City
2024 Auckland
2023 New York
2023 Cincinnati
2023 Washington
2023 Auckland
2019 Linz
2019 Washington
Doubles
Year City
2022 Doha
2019 Luxembourg

 

Coco Gauff – the biggest name in women’s tennis

Even before Gauff won the US Open, she had become the most marketable name in women’s tennis, the player that tournament directors targeted to sell tickets. But that wasn’t just because of her tennis – in fact her tennis was probably secondary to her personality.

Back in June 2020, with the tennis tour suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic, America was consumed with racial violence following the death of George Floyd. At a ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstration in Delray Beach, where Gauff and her family live, the then 16-year-old Coco stood up and made a highly impressive four-minute speech without notes. Her eloquence made a great impression, and it has been followed up with the quality of her on-court interviews after tennis matches, many of which touch on social issues.

But then Gauff has always been more than just a tennis player.

“We have always encouraged Coco to play a lot of sports – basketball, baseball as well as tennis,” her father Corey Gauff said with a smile on his face as he watched his children play an impromptu basketball game after Coco had played an exhibition match. He is a tall, solidly built former basketball star from Georgia State University who has proved, like Richard Williams before him, that you don’t have to be a player yourself to teach a kid how to hit to tennis ball.  

Cori "Coco" Gauff pushing herself at the French OpenCori "Coco" Gauff pushing herself at the French Open

His wife, Candi, was a hurdler and heptathlete at Florida State University, and the family were living in Atlanta, Georgia when their four year old daughter first became aware of a game called tennis. “I took her to Target and bought her a child’s racquet,” said Corey, referring to the omnipresent store one can find in most neighbourhoods across America. “It was pink and modelled on what I think Maria Sharapova was using at the time. I bought her pink shoes; the whole outfit was pink.”

By the time she was six, little Coco was less interested in the colour of her outfit than watching Serena and Venus play tennis. She saw them on television and started to get the urge to play properly herself. The following year her parents entered her into the Little Mo Tournament, an annual event supported by the Maureen Connolly Brinker Foundation, which attracts some 300 kids from all over the world to a club in North Palm Beach, Florida.

Cori "Coco" GauffCori "Coco" Gauff

“She started to learn how to compete and stopped fooling around,” her father remembers. It was at that time that the decision was made to move south, to Delray Beach, to live initially with Candi Gauff’s relatives before buying their own home in an area that boasted numerous tennis academies. One of the first Coco was taken to belonged to Rick Macci, the coach Richard Williams called upon to take a look at his daughters when Venus was 10 and Serena nine. 

By then it had become time to buy Coco a proper racquet. “I think we noticed that another junior, Tornado Black, was using a Head,” recalls Corey, “and Coco tried it and liked it. We wanted a thin-framed racquet because Coco felt confident in generating her own power. It seemed that racquets emphasising power caused more injuries and, as athletes ourselves, my wife and I were very conscious about putting too much stress on a young body. Coco wanted a racket with feel and touch, and the Head 360 Speed MP gave her that.”

 

 "Coco wanted a racquet with feel and touch, and the HEAD 360 Speed MP gave her that"

Blessed with a lithe, athletic frame Coco grew gracefully into the young athlete she is today – one who, inevitably, offers a reminder of Venus Williams at about the same age. Gauff had the launch pad of beating the elder Williams at Wimbledon, but then ended the US Open in tears after playing badly against Naomi Osaka in the third round, Osaka consoling Gauff on court and inviting her to share the winner’s on-court interview. Yet Gauff processed that defeat, and four months later beat Osaka at the Australian Open.

Cori "Coco" Gauff backhandCori "Coco" Gauff backhand

Progress after that was gradual, with doubles playing a big part in Gauff’s broader tennis education. She secured the No 1 doubles ranking in 2022 after reaching the French Open final with Jessica Pegula, an event where she was runner-up in both singles and doubles. A rejig of her coaching team, which involved appointing the Spaniard Pere Riba as her coach alongside her father Corey, triggered a run of form that culminated in her US Open title of 2023.

Cori "Coco" Gauff forehand on the runCori "Coco" Gauff forehand on the run

From now on, stopping Coco Gauff on a tennis court will become an increasingly difficult task. But her talent with a racket is only part of her appeal. Signing autographs, talking to strangers, and answering reporters’ questions all seem to come naturally to her and she responds with a quiet charm that speaks so well for her upbringing, and bodes so well for the future of women’s tennis.

 

 

WORDS BY RICHARD EVANS