It’s been a whirlwind year for Cori “Coco” Gauff. The American tennis player took the tennis world by storm when she qualified for Wimbledon at the age of 15 – making her the youngest player to qualify for the main Wimbledon draw since the Open era began in 1968. Not only that, but she also managed to beat one of her idols, former world number one Venus Williams, as she progressed to the fourth round of the tournament.
Although Gauff’s name may be unfamiliar to many, she’s been making waves on the tennis scene for a while now (she’s currently 301st in the world), and was touted “a champion in the making” by a BBC commentator during her first round match at Wimbledon. Her skill and maturity on the court has also earned the praise of fellow tennis stars such as Serena Williams, as well as former First Lady Michelle Obama.
And now, after a whirlwind year which saw her reach the third round of the US open at the end of August, Coco Gauff has finally claimed her first WTA title at the Linz open in Austria, beating her opponent Jelena Ostaphenko 6-3 1-6 6-2. The 15-year-old is now expected to move inside the world’s top 75, despite beginning the year well outside the top 600.
Gauff only qualified for the tournament’s main draw as a “lucky loser” after losing in the final round of qualifying. “It has been an amazing week, I hope to come back here again. I will remember this moment for the rest of my life,” Gauff told the BBC.
It’s safe to say 2019 has been an incredible year for Gauff: despite now being regarded a tennis sensation, she was unknown by many at the beginning of the year. If you haven’t heard of Gauff before, or just want to know more about the 15-year-old’s journey to success, here’s everything we know about the iconic tennis player.
She was born in Georgia in 2004
Coco Gauff was born in Atlanta in March 2004. After getting into the sport at age seven, Gauff moved to Florida to pursue her dream of playing tennis. Her athletic ability is cemented in her genes: both of her parents played sport at collegiate level – her mum, Candi Gauff, did track and field, and her dad, Corey Gauff, played basketball at Georgia State University.
Since she was 10 Gauff has been training at the Mouratoglou Academy in France: she’s coached by her dad, and is homeschooled by her mum. She may be playing at one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world, but she’s still got to get an education – that’s why the evening before the first of her qualifying matches at Wimbledon, she was taking a science test.
“I ended up getting a B on the exam, which was pretty good, considering I took it at 11 at night and I had to wake up the next day for a match,” Gauff told CNN.
“After my science test, I guess some of my teachers saw the interview,” she explained. “Before that … only one teacher knew I play tennis, and I don’t think they knew I was pro. And now all of them except one know I play and they’re all cheering me on.”
Serena Williams inspired her to play tennis
Although Gauff has admitted that both of the Williams sisters have served as inspirations for her, it was Serena Williams that ultimately inspired her to play tennis.
Speaking to The Sun, her father recalled the moment she had revealed she wanted to be a tennis champion.
“I think it was the Australian Open we were watching on TV when she was four or five,” he explained. “She saw me jump up celebrating when Serena won and she said, ‘Daddy, do you like that? I want to do the same thing’.”
However, Venus remains an important icon for her, too. Gauff described her first round match as a “dream draw,” - the first person she thanked for her win was Venus herself.
Speaking about the words exchanged after the match, Gauff told the BBC: “Venus told me congratulations and keep going, she said good luck and I told her thanks for everything she did.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her – I told her she was so inspiring and I’ve always wanted to tell her that but I’ve never had the guts to before.”
She keeps her cool under pressure
Coco may only be 15 years old, but she’s already spreading some wise words about how to keep your cool under pressure.
Speaking to the Tennis Channel during her time at the Miami Open earlier this year – where she secured her first WTA Tour-level win – Gauff said she doesn’t put herself under too much pressure.
“I don’t really feel pressure from the outside, more within,” she began. “I’ve kind of gotten into this mindset like ‘If I lose, nothing is going to happen as long as I keep my composure’. Because no-one’s going to play their best game everyday, but the one thing you can control is the way you act on the court, so if I can control the controllables. And if [the opponent] plays a good match and I don’t play so well then I can’t do anything about what I’m doing on court – all I know is that I can control my attitude and just play like practice.”
Coco is her nickname
This one’s pretty straightforward - in an interview with The New York Times, Gauff explained that she prefers to be called Coco because her name sounds the same as her dad’s – Corey.
“He likes to say every time they call me ‘Cori,’ they’re cheering for him,” she explained.
She’s got a trio of sponsorships behind her
Despite only rising to mainstream recognition in the last couple of weeks, Gauff has been making waves in the tennis world for a while now – and her trio of sponsorships prove just that.
In 2019 she’s expected to take home a comfortable $1 million from her three sponsorship deals - she’s signed with sportswear brand New Balance, Italian pasta giant Barilla and racket maker Head. And she’s under demand – New Balance only secured their deal with her after a bidding war with Nike.
She’s vocal about social issues
Despite her age, Gauff is also engaged with social issues – and wants to use her voice and social media following to make a difference. Just take a look at her Instagram bio to get a sense of what she cares about – she’s got the viral hashtag #prayforsudan above a link to donate for the crisis in order to raise awareness of what’s going on in the country.
Speaking to The New York Times, Gauff also revealed her passion for African-American history.
“During Black History Month I was posting one random fact that you don’t learn at school a day,” she said. “Because there’s so many things that I didn’t know if it wasn’t for the internet and social media.”
Her father supports her social concern, saying he encourages her to use her voice for good: “I’ve always challenged her, from the beginning of this when we started, telling her that she’ll be able to change the world with her racket. So I’m not going to encourage her, when she gets there, to stick her head in the ground and ignore social issues.”
She’s no stranger to success
Gauff is no stranger to making history. She’s not only taken the title for the youngest ever player to qualify for the main Wimbledon draw in the Open era, but at 13, she was the youngest player to reach the U.S. Open girl’s final. At 15, she also became the youngest female to win in a qualifying match in the French Open this year.
And even though Wimbledon may be one of the world’s top stages for tennis, Gauff says she was determined not to let the size of the court influence her game against Venus.
Speaking to the BBC after her win, she said: “Honestly I don’t really know how to feel. That’s the first time I have ever cried after winning a match. I don’t even know how to explain how I feel.
“I had to tell myself to stay calm,” she added. “I have never played on such a big court. I had to remind myself of the lines on the court. Everything around it might be bigger, but the lines are the same.”
She concluded: “I know my parents are super happy, my dad was jumping up every time I won a point. I am literally living my dream right now and not many people get to say that.”