The WTA has had their fair share of young stars who have come to prominence as teenagers. Tracy Austin, Chris Evert, Serena and Venus are a few names that come to mind. But very few have been able to make the impact on all platforms like American CoCo Gauff.
Gauff burst onto the stage at 15 years old (yes, 15!) when she beat the aforementioned Venus Williams at Wimbledon. Now, it’s not totally out of the ordinary to get one big win. But to follow that up for the rest of the year? Almost impossible for young players who are new to the tour. Gauff scoffed at that preconception, making deep runs at the U.S. Open and winning her first career WTA title at the Linz Open in Austria. Now that expectations were high, how would she respond in 2020? It was more of the same, with Gauff making a run to the fourth round of the Australian Open, once again beating Venus Williams and world No. 1 Naomi Osaka before falling to eventual champion Sofia Kenin.
By now, CoCo was a household name, even beyond just the tennis world. The breakout brought new eyes and record ratings to her matches. The spotlight is where many young stars have crumbled, often wanting to live a more normal teenage life. But not CoCo. Despite being a freshman in high school, she has proven to be wise beyond her years.
Black lives have always mattered. They mattered then, they matter now and they’ll matter in the future.
“I just be myself, I don’t really focus on the camera,” Gauff said earlier this year. “I just be myself and hope that works out.”
Being herself has proven to have a big impact. Gauff has emerged as one of the most active and strong voices amongst tennis players in the U.S. In July, amid protests and unrest regarding police brutality, Gauff delivered a powerful speech in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida.
“Yes, we’re all here protesting, and I’m not of age to vote, but it’s in your hands to vote for my future, for my brother’s future and for your future,” Gauff said. “So that’s one way to make change. This is what I have to tell you, this: If you listen to black music. If you like black culture. If you have black friends. Then this is your fight, too.”
Gauff has had a number of personal conversations with her fellow players so they could better educate themselves and make a difference.
“My first reaction was, wow, what a profound, mature, insightful and knowledgeable young lady,” said Katrina Adams, who was the first Black woman to lead the USTA when she took the helm in 2015. “At that age, she understands what we’re experiencing is wrong, and she realizes that her voice truly matters.”
CoCo grew up watching the Williams sisters pave the way for people who looked like her, showing that anyone could make it to the top of the sport, regardless of race or upbringing. Now, Gauffis a role model for future athletes who may have previously been afraid to speak up.
“I promise to always use my platform to spread vital information, spread aware-ness and fight racism,” Gauff said. “Black lives have always mattered. They mattered then, they matter now and they’ll matter in the future.”