July 1, 2019. A young prodigy by the name of Coco Gauff stands in the bowels of Wimbledon, awaiting to take centre court for her major debut. To the left of her stands Coco’s father Corey, giving her fatherly advice and words of encouragement. And to the right of Gauff stands her opponent, Venus Willams.
Williams, who is practically tennis royalty, is no stranger to Wimbledon, winning the tournament 5 times by her lonesome, to go along with 6 titles in doubles play. As the two head onto the court, you can only imagine the fear that was coursing through Gauff’s body. Most 15 year olds barely know proper grammar, never mind play a Willams sister on the historic grass courts at Wimbledon.
With that being said, if Gauff had any fear on that hot summer day, she did not show it. The 15-year-old sensation from Atlanta played as poised as a seasoned vet. Her shot striking ability was something that had not been seen before, and Williams had no answer for it. By match’s end, Gauff had shocked the world, beating Willams, 6-4, 6-4.
Later that summer as the major season winded to a close, Gauff made her American major debut at the US Open. After winning her first two matches in dominating fashion, Gauff would be paired up against reigning US Open champion and at the time, world number one, Naomi Osaka.
In a match that was much anticipated by the tennis world, it was clear from the jump that Gauff had no answer for the overpowering defending champ. Osaka was faster, stronger and made better decisions throughout the match. The main takeaway that I had from that match, was that for the first time watching Gauff, I was reminded that she was only 15 years old, which is a credit to her. She had looked so seasoned and so poised, that I had forgotten that she was only a teenager, and was playing on the world’s biggest stage, against the world’s best player.
As the match concluded, Osaka and Gauff shared a moment that will be talked about for years to come. Knowing how visibly upset Gauff was, Osaka had asked the young star if she would join her for an on-court interview. During the interview, Gauff, who tried to hold back the tears to the best of her ability, was showered with applause from the NY crowd. It was a moment of great gamesmanship by Osaka, as well as bright things ahead for Gauff, as she knew behind those tears, this was only the beginning of a special career.
Fast forward to present day, and Gauff, who is still at the young age of 15, is back playing major tennis. This time, making her debut at the Australian Open.
In her first match down under, Gauff was paired with a familiar face in the likes of Venus Williams. In what felt like a match of nostalgia, the result was much of the same from that day in July, as Gauff won 7-6 (7-5 tiebreak), 6-3.
In her next match, Gauff was matched up against Sorana Cîrstea, a 29-year-old from Romania who was known to have one of the better serves on tour. What was supposed to be an easy win of sorts for Gauff, quickly turned into a battle for survival. During the first set, Gauff would make unforced errors that she was accustomed to making. Another thing Gauff struggled with, was handling the Romanian’s serve, as stealing a break in the first became nearly impossible. After the first set was complete, Gauff had found herself in uncharted waters, down a set and fighting to keep her head above water.
During the second set, the young prodigy quickly regained her swagger. Her forehand strikes were sharper, she was serving with more confidence and her overall play was much improved. Gauff took the second set by a score of 6-3, which forced a final and decisive, third set.
In the third set, Gauff quickly found herself stuck in the mud. After gaining an early break, Cîrstea took a controlling 3-0 lead in the final set. Just as it seemed that Gauff’s tournament hopes were coming to a close, the star in the making showed just why she is so special.
The fight that Gauff showed after being down 3-0 in the third set is something you only see out of inspirational boxing movies. Every good shot Gauff would hit, would be followed by a passionate “Come on!” As the come on’s got louder, her play got better, and in a blink of an eye, the score was tied up at five games apiece in the deciding set. Then, as it seemed inevitable that the match would be headed to a final set, super tiebreak, something magical happened. Gauff found a way to break Cîrstea’s serve. The crowd erupted as they knew the American was now just a serve away from closing out the match. And close it out she did. The comeback kid had survived to fight another day, moving on with a dramatic 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, victory.
As Gauff is now through to the third round, she is faced with yet again a familiar face. Standing in her way and the 4th round will be current world number 3, Naomi Osaka. Will history repeat itself or is it time for Gauff to write her own chapter? Only time will tell.