Coco Gauff grew up admiring the Williams sisters. Picked up a tennis racket as a little girl because of them. And on Monday at Wimbledon, still just 15, Gauff beat one of them.
Gauff, already the youngest competitor ever to qualify at the All England Club in the professional era, showed the poise and power of a much older, much more experienced player, pulling off a 6-4, 6-4 victory in the first round over Venus Williams, who at 39 was the oldest woman in the field.
When it ended, Gauff dropped her racket and put her hands on her head. After a handshake and exchange of words at the net with Williams, Gauff knelt by her sideline chair and tears welled in her eyes. Up in the stands, her father leaped out of his seat.
“The sky’s the limit,” Williams said. “It really is.”
Gauff, who is black, long looked up to Williams and her younger sister, Serena, the first African American women since Althea Gibson in the 1950s to win a Grand Slam singles championship.
Asked about Gauff over the weekend, Serena said she reminds her of Venus.
When they spoke after Monday’s match, Gauff said she thanked Venus “for everything she did.”
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” said Gauff, who joined the crowd in applauding for Venus as she walked off the court. “And I was just telling her that she’s so inspiring. Like, I always wanted to tell her that. And even though I met her before, I guess now I have the guts to.”
She showed plenty of grit in this match, particularly after getting broken to make it 4-all in the second set. Gauff steadied herself right there, though, breaking right back with a pair of forehand passing shots that drew errant volleys.
And then in the final game, Gauff needed to erase the disappointment of wasting her initial three match points. She did just that, converting her fourth when Venus put a forehand into the net.
“I never thought this would happen,” Gauff said. “I’m literally living my dream right now. And not many people get to say that.”