By Ian Jackson (@IanNicholas42)
Every once in a while a phenomenon builds in sports with little to no forewarning and it attracts a lot of attention instantly and it creates one of the greatest moments you will ever see.
Such a moment happened learier this month at Wimbledon, that hallowed setting where the game of tennis is presented at its most high stakes and high-class.
At the seemingly premature age of 15, one Cori “Coco” Gauff made her debut to the world stage at Wimbledon this year, becoming the youngest person ever to make the tournament’s main draw. Gauff began the tournament as an unranked wild card entry and made herself into a championship contender who beat legend Venus Williams along the way before falling in the fourth round to eventual champion Simona Halep. Today, Gauff is a top 200 player for the first time, rising dozens of spots in the world rankings as the summer schedule turns to preparing for the U.S. Open.
Upon reflection, maybe Gauff made the most of the element of surprise with her run at the All England Tennis Club, but with such other amazing talent in the women’s division (and no lack of depth, just ask Serena Williams) Coco would have to mentally prepare herself personally and professionally to make it to the top and show the world who Coco Gauff is in such dramatic fashion.
Imagine facing one of the most famous women’s tennis placers ever in Venus Williams in your first ever main draw match at Wimbledon. Now imagine playing the way Gauff did in sweeping the older of the Williams sisters and shocking the entire establishment of the game as well as any and all passive observers of tennis.
“It’s just crazy. Pretty surreal how life changes in a matter of seconds,” said Gauff to Reuters as the media attention surrounding her began to ramp up.
Thankfully there’s been no downside exploited by the media as well as more has been learned about the Florida native, instead Gauff’s story has only been deepened as the origins of her path to Wimbledon were laid out and the story has expanded to include her loving parents and reliable (and huge) support system began showing out as well. Past Coco’s stunning debut, as her first week in the spotlight unfolded, her maturity grew as each match continued and each media scrum followed her off the court.
Pure unadulterated celebrity likely awaits Gauff too as she proves herself more on the court — her humble story paired with her representational status as a still-rare black woman at the heights of competitive tennis begs for people to take notice widely from the unidentifiable to the very identifiable, such as Jaden Smith tweeting her and saying “Shout out to Coco Gauff you’re the one.”
Imagining how hard Gauff is working to be the best at this age makes it easy to root for her going forward, this has to be a great challenge for someone who can’t likely get their driver’s learning permit yet. Certainly the sky’s the limit for Coco but so many challenges will await as future competitors stand across her no longer surprised at what she can do and fully knowledgeable that they will have to play their absolute best in order to beat her.
Such thoughts resonate with me because I started playing tennis at the age of 13 years old and I played wanting to make a huge impact. Playing tournaments throughout my high school career allowed me to get recruited by colleges and provided a proving ground for me where I had to test myself to advance myself personally. It took a lot to stay on a path of improvement and evolving maturity, and as my senior year in high school went by, I found my greatest success in spite of having to constantly compete with some amazing talent from each high school around the area of Round Lake, Ill.
But once I did compete I made a name for myself and people started to recognize who I was as a tennis player and they respected me as an opponent. That time of growth via competition helped define me and gave me a blueprint with which to build my efforts as I’ve set out on more dreams and ambitions through college and looking forward once I leave Roosevelt University.
What Coco Gauff is doing for the sport of tennis right now is definitely making a huge impact in the sport while inspiring young players, and really young people with all kinds of ambitions, to keep working hard and one day they can make it as well.
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