Coco Gauff: the even-keeled American prodigy flirting with grand slam glory

The youngest American grand slam finalist since Serena Williams is one win away from a breakthrough major championship that’s been years in the making

On Thursday afternoon, Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff defeated Italy’s Martina Trevisan in straight sets in the French Open semi-finals.

In doing so, she racked up several superlatives, becoming, most notably, the youngest grand slam finalist in almost 20 years and the youngest American to reach a major final since her idol, Serena Williams, collected the first of her 23 grand slam titles at the 1999 US Open.

Gauff advanced to Saturday’s final against Poland’s Iga Świątek, the in-form world No 1 and winner of 34 straight matches, with even bigger history in the offing. But the development is hardly a surprise for those who have charted her rock-steady ascent through the professional ranks.  

Three years ago, in June 2019, Gauff received a call at home in Delray Beach, Florida. She learned she’d secured a wild card entry into the Wimbledon qualifiers and, within a matter of hours, was on a flight to London.

The precocious 15-year-old soared through three rounds, defeating each opponent in straight sets, and became the youngest player in the Open era history to qualify for the main draw. Those victories cleared a path to what would become the match of the tournament – a stunning first-round upset on Centre Court over five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams.

Gauff eventually fell to Romania’s Simona Halep in the fourth round, but her Wimbledon debut made her an overnight global sensation. It also opened her nascent career up to a flutter of speculative commentary, from the media and fellow players alike, about whether it was too much, too soon, about whether young teenagers, children, actually, needed to be competing at grand slams years before they were old enough to vote.

The kind of work that goes into being a professional tennis player is only recently the stuff of Netflix documentaries; the level of tedium inherent to the endless rotation of practice, and play, and training, and physio, the kind needed to avoid the one-off anomaly of an early-career success, simply cannot be avoided.

And so, even as the world contorted and burned amid a global pandemic and social unrest at home, Gauff, her parents and supporting team devoted themselves to the long-term development of both her tennis and character. As evidenced by her performance these past two weeks at Roland Garros, their steadfastness has paid rich dividends.

“I think really it’s about who you surround yourself with,” Gauff said on Thursday. “I mean, I don’t know for other player situations, but I’m lucky for me in my team and my family that they never put results as the only thing that mattered. If anything, you know, it’s like how I act on the court and/or act off the court.