As I sat emotionally caught up in the touching embrace between Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys following their milestone US Open championship match, I thought to myself it couldn’t get any better than this for black tennis fans as a wrap to the biggest Grand Slam tournament of them all.
But, the next day, it got a little better…well, almost.
A day after Sloane and Madison added a new highlight to black tennis history as the only African-American women to face off for a US Open singles title since Serena and Venus Williams in 2002, Cori Gauff had a chance to become the first African-American girls champion since Zina Garrison won in 1981.
While Cori fell short of achieving that distinction, she did make the record books as the youngest girl ever to play in the final at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, NY. She is 13.
Having not dropped a set leading up to the final, Cori lost it in straight sets, 0-6, 2-6, to another American, Amanda Anisimova, who turned 16 during the tournament and has announced she will turn pro.
Cori “CoCo” Gauff aspires to be the greatest tennis player ever, and she just may have the game, moxie and perfect role model to make it happen.
For now, though, the Atlanta native who now lives in Delray Beach, Fla., has her sights set on winning another prestigious Orange Bowl title in December. She won her first at the end of last year at age 12.
I watched Cori’s US Open post-match interview on YouTube and was impressed by the poise of this girl who became a teenager only six months ago. I also was struck by how much the long-limbed junior reminded me of Venus.
Cori, who was playing in her first Grand Slam main draw as a wild-card entry, said she savored the experience on and off the court.
“Every single part of it was so much fun, being on site…just being at the US Open in New York was the most fun. I enjoyed every single part of being here.”
“I’ll definitely be back here,” she added.
At 5’10” and presumably still growing, Cori has natural athleticism. Her father, Corey, played basketball for Georgia State University; mother, Candi, was a gymnast and ran track at Florida State University.
It comes as no surprise that this young black tennis phenom idolizes Serena, as do so many black girls who have taken up the sport. She has trained at the French academy run by Serena’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, and has met her favorite player there.
Cori already exudes the confidence of the Williams sisters, who have 30 Grand Slam singles titles between them, with Serena becoming the all-time modern-era champion in January when she won No. 23 at the Australian Open.
Following her US Open semi-final victory, Cori emphasized anything less than the title would be a disappointment.
“Every tournament I play, I play to win,” she said. “I don’t limit myself to reaching the second or third round.”
Cori and Anisimova are two of the young stars that have United States Tennis Association officials excited about the future of American tennis.
But she is no newcomer to Martin Blackman, the USTA’s general manager for player development. When she was 8 years old, Cori was one of Blackman’s pupils at a Florida tennis academy.
“The first thing I noticed was her attitude and character,” Blackman told ESPN.com. “She was an amazing athlete and already very hardworking, really wanted to learn.”
Unless the WTA’s age limits change, Cori will have to wait until she is 14 to turn pro. And even then, the number of tournaments in which she can play will be limited.
More immediate are school obligations for the eighth-grader who studies online. She cites science, writing and math as her favorite subjects.
College is in her plans, but she makes it clear she already has chosen her career path.
“I’m definitely going to go to college,” she said in her post-match interview, “but I probably will do online and just go pro.”
During an interview in April with tennis.com, she responded with blunt confidence when asked about her professional goals.
“I want to be the greatest of all time,” she said.