At the conclusion of the 2017 US Open Women’s tennis championships, I wrote about a young phenom who had just competed in the girls title match. Her name was Cori “Coco” Gauff, and she was 13.
Let me repeat that: She was 13! The youngest girls’ finalist ever.
At the time, I was struck by how this long-limbed junior reminded me of a young Venus Williams. But what really impressed me was how composed she was at her age and the conviction in which she spoke of her goal.
“I want to be the greatest of all time,” Coco told tennis.com in April of that year.
For those who have been following Coco, her remarkable run at this year’s Wimbledon championships should not have come as a surprise. Think of it as a preview of what’s to come, as this 15-year-old prodigy pursues her dream of being the best player ever.
Coco fans in the Washington, D.C. area will have an opportunity to see her up close at this year’s Citi Open that starts July 27. But even if she doesn’t receive a qualifier berth, she will play a practice match in the main stadium and host the Citi Open Kids’ Day event on July 28, according to a Citi Open announcement.
“Coco’s story is a perfect fit with the history and mission of our tournament and, as potentially the next great American star, she also embodies our future and our reimagination of this storied event,” said Mark Ein, chairman of MDE Tennis the new manager of the Citi Open.
Having just turned 15 in March, Coco became the darling of Wimbledon when she defeated her idol Venus on opening day. Afterward, headlines blared “A Star Is Born.”
But the actual emergence of Coco’s star potential came two matches later, when she showed the heart of a champion in a come-from-behind victory that propelled her into the Sweet 16 round of what many consider the most prestigious of the four Grand Slam tournaments in professional tennis.
Coco had won five straight matches without dropping a set before facing the crafty veteran Polona Hercog. The talented teen was down a set and 2-5 with Hercog serving for the match when she flipped the script. In doing so, she captured the imagination of millions as Cocomania swelled.
For the first time in a long while, I found myself on the edge of my seat as I watched Coco’s amazing comeback. I had become so emotionally engaged that I threw up my hands and screamed, “Yes!”, when she won.Embed from Getty Images
The match reportedly drew more than five million viewers on BBC. And dozens cheered Coco’s every point during a watch party at a family-owned restaurant in Delray Beach. Even former First Lady Michelle Obama tweeted congratulations.
Coco showed spunk in her Sweet 16 match against Simona Halep, but the depth and precision of the former French Open champion and World No. 1 proved too much for her to overcome.
The next day, Coco appeared on all the major networks to talk about her Wimbledon experience. To say she has become a hot ticket would be an understatement.
Coco’s participation at the Citi Open represents a coup for organizers, as it would be her first tennis appearance in the United States since Wimbledon. And Women’s Tennis Association age restrictions limit the number of tournaments in which she can play.Embed from Getty Images
The daughter of a former college basketball player, Corey, and former college gymnast and track athlete, Candi, Coco began playing tennis at age 7, inspired by Venus and Serena Williams. She has trained at the French academy of Patrick Mouratoglou, who is Serena’s coach, since she was 10.
Last year, Coco won the girls’ French Open singles title and the US Open girls’ doubles championship. She became the No. 1 junior in the world and turned pro.
As a result of her success at Wimbledon, Coco climbed 172 spots in the WTA rankings to No. 141. Her Wimbledon earnings amounted to $222,000, nearly triple her total as a pro. She already has endorsement deals with New Balance and Barilla.
Against Venus, Coco showed tremendous focus and composure in facing her longtime idol. The only time she succumbed to emotions was just before she went to the net where she held onto Venus’s hand in a heartwarming exchange.
Venus was gracious in defeat and had this to say about Coco’s potential: “The sky’s the limit, it really is.”
Coco has a long flight to reach her goal. She has yet to win one Grand Slam, while her other idol Serena fell just short of winning her 24th, losing to Halep in the Wimbledon final. And as long as Serena continues to play, the bar could get even higher for the GOAT in waiting.
But her journey to the top should be an exciting trip for everyone involved.