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Can Coco Gauff the Tennis Prodigy Turn out to be a Tennis Legend?

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On the French Open, a reporter asked Gauff to discuss whatever perspective she had gained about her game over time. “I put myself in a bubble to the purpose where it was, like, tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis,” Gauff replied, referencing the past. “My grandmother, she’s all the time like, ‘There’s more to life than this.’” She got here to understand that her grandmother was right. “I can calm down in these situations. It’s only a tennis match. It’s not the top of the world. There’s so many individuals going through so many, like, uncomfortable situations. For me to be — I mean, obviously being nervous is natural — but for me to think that winning a tennis match or losing a tennis match is the top of the world, I feel just type of shows what type of privilege I even have.” Having that mind-set, she said, “probably helped me.”

Gauff’s grandmother desegregated the foremost highschool in Delray Beach; her grandfather founded a baseball league for Black youths within the Nineteen Seventies, when access to the game for Black children was still a challenge. When Corey Gauff was a basketball player at Georgia State, he told me, he and two of his teammates were pulled over by officers who forced them to the bottom; one held a gun to Gauff’s head. It turned out to be a brutal case of mistaken identity. Coco’s family’s history clearly informed her words when she volunteered to talk on the Delray Beach Black Lives Matter rally on June 3, 2020. “I saw a Dr. King quote that said, The silence of the nice people is worse than the brutality of the bad people,” she told the group. “So you might want to not be silent, because in case you are selecting silence, you’re selecting the side of the oppressor.”

The expectation that Gauff could have an effect beyond tennis is sure up with the pressure to win: It’s champions who generally take the microphone. But whatever Gauff’s current singles rating, Tracy Austin says, Gauff is already considered a frontrunner on the tour. “She was 16 — to offer such a profound speech about social justice at the moment, at that age?” Austin said. “She’s already a frontrunner now. But what type of leader can she develop into at 25?” Evert agreed with Austin’s assessment, tweeting in 2020: “I think now we have a future leader, role model and activist in @CocoGauff.”

“You possibly can change the world along with your racket,” Gauff’s father all the time told her. That goal was not a perk of becoming a tennis star; it was a driving reason to develop into one within the Gauff household. “I all the time told her, ‘Play for that little girl who was watching through the fence,’” Corey Gauff recalled to me. “ ‘She’s the one taking a look at you. If you happen to can’t play for you, play for her. And in case you can’t play for her, then just don’t play.’” Being a task model for ladies, especially girls of color, is a meaningful way that Gauff finds motivation in the game, no matter how much the Williams sisters have already modified tennis. “There’s all the time going to be work to be done,” Gauff said. “Long, long after I’ve finished tennis and long after I leave this earth.”

That sense of purpose suggests that Gauff is already becoming, to paraphrase what she told her agent, a young woman who plays tennis, versus someone whose identity is inseparable from her rating. On the close of a recent match Gauff played against Naomi Osaka, she thanked some fans within the front row who had been holding up an indication that Gauff called “probably the perfect” she’d ever seen. The sign, decorated with rainbows and each players’ first names, said nothing about tennis or winning. It read: “Thanks for being you.”

In late July, Gauff and her team flew to San Francisco several days before the beginning of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic, her first hard-court tournament of the summer. It was also her first tournament since Wimbledon, where she lost within the third round. An avid baseball fan, she took in a Giants game along with her family and was thrilled to throw out the primary pitch. The subsequent day, Gauff, warming up on a practice court with Moyano, was clearly feeling good, laughing easily along along with her dad when a stray ball plowed into him. All week, other players told her she was hitting well; compared with Florida, where she sweats a lot that the racket sometimes flies out of her hand and across the court, San Jose was easy on the body. Heading into her first match, she decided she would attempt to summon the fun she had in Atlanta — she would aim for “being super hype and bringing on the drama,” like Serena, while also playing it cool, like Federer.

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