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Opinion: From the Stands to the Court: How Coco Gauff is Changing the Tennis World

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at American chapter.

When she was 8 years old, Coco Gauff attended the US Open with her dad. The now viral video captures Gauff dancing and cheering at the 2008 US Open. Flash forward to 2023, she took home her first Grand Slam, defeating Aryna Sabalenka, the number one ranked player in the world. Sept. 9, 2023 was a momentous day not only for Coco Gauff, but for the entire sport. 

The Start of Cocomania

Gauff’s skill and determination on the tennis court have caught the attention of fans and professionals alike. Her powerful and agile playing style, combined with her strategic thinking, make her a formidable opponent. She has fearlessly taken on top-ranked players and consistently delivers impressive performances.

Her popularity, dubbed “Cocomania,” grew as a result of the kind of tennis player Coco is and how quickly she became recognized and favored within the media. She first became a global sensation when she took the court at Wimbledon in 2019. Matched up against five-time champion and Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams, Gauff stunned the world when she defeated her at just 15 years old. From that moment on, Cocomania took over, as Gauff became known internationally. 

Because of her age, there was a limit to the number of tournaments she could enter, but nonetheless, she continued to rise in the rankings and popularity. Following Wimbledon, she played at the Australian Open and the US Open with all eyes on her as tennis’ next rising star.The rest is history. 

The Future of Black Women in Sports

Gauff’s achievements have opened doors for more representation and diversity in the sport, which is a predominantly white industry. She has become a role model for young Black girls who aspire to pursue tennis, showing them that they too can excel in a sport that has historically lacked diversity. Her presence in the tennis world is breaking down barriers and inspiring a new generation of athletes.

Since 2000, the only American women who have won the US Open have been Black women. Gauff, being the most recent victor, joins both Williams sisters and Sloane Stephens. Both Serena and Venus stood as role models for young Gauff, as they were the trailblazers in the sport for the last two decades. 

After she won the US Open, Gauff said “They’re the reason why I have this trophy today, to be honest. They have allowed me to believe in this dream growing up.”

Gauff began playing tennis at the age of six, and recalls watching the sport on television and noticing that not many players looked like her. She says that the Williams sisters were all she could remember. Serena and Venus often received criticism rooted in racism and sexism, commenting on the way they looked and how they acted on the court. They have been outspoken when it comes to equality within the sport. The Williams sisters will go down in history as tennis legends, and modern stars like Gauff hope to take their place and fill the role they once played for her. 

Thanks to Black female tennis players who came before her, perhaps Gauff can be spared some of the discrimination that has historically been targeted towards them. As Cocomania rages on, Gauff recognizes the honor of being ranked alongside the Williams sisters and players like Naomi Osaka, Althea Gibson and Sloane Stephens, the women who paved the way for her.

More than a Game

Through her performances and her advocacy off the court, Gauff uses her platform to fight for social justice and equality. She has been vocal about the need for change both on and off the court by participating in initiatives aimed at addressing these inequalities. What inspires her to speak up? 

She says her grandmother, Yvonne Lee Odom, is the main reason why she uses her platform in the way she does and feels confident about being outspoken. More than sixty years ago, Odom was responsible for integrating Delray Beach public schools, and later became a teacher in the city for forty-five years. Gauff says her own efforts to raise awareness about athletes’ mental health mirrors her grandmother’s courageous actions. There is a reason why she has no problem doing the things that she does, because her grandmother “always reminds me that I’m a person first instead of an athlete.”

Born in Atlanta, Georgia and raised in DelRay Beach, Florida, Gauff is familiar with southern ideals. Gauff recalls feeling empowered by her grandmother to speak out about anti-LGBTQ+ rights in her home state. Gauff felt strongly about the Republican-backed legislation, informally known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, saying that she believes schools should be a safe place for kids. Additionally, she expressed sympathy for her friends in the LGBTQ+ community, and that she could not imagine not being able to talk about your identity.  

During the May of 2020, when George Floyd was murdered, Coco Gauff was only 16. Not old enough to vote, but old enough to use her voice. She attended a Black Lives Matter protest in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida. She emphasized the importance of using your voice and speaking out, and that it breaks her heart to have to fight for her future at such a young age. 

Coco Gauff speaks at a Black Lives Matter protest in Delray Beach, Florida

Gauff has also used her platform to give back to the community that started it all for her. She was born in Atlanta, Georgia and often goes back to visit friends and family. With her love for the city and dedication to investing in young athletes, Gauff partnered with Art in the Paint organization to renovate the public courts in Brownwood Park. 

On the first day of the US Open, Gauff faced off against German tennis player, Laura Siegemund. She won the match, but not before she confronted the umpire about a rule violation. Calling out her opponent’s slow pace of play, Gauff told the umpire numerous times throughout the match that her opponent was “never ready when I’m serving”. Because of this, the media was drawing similarities to Venus and Serena Williams, as they were also outspoken on the court when it came to unfair treatment. 

Society has come a long way, from turning their backs on Colin Kaepernick, to supporting and uplifting the voices of athletes, like Coco Gauff and many others. Their impact transcends the world of sports and paves the way for Black athletes across the sports.

Riley-Kate is senior at American University and is majoring in public relations and strategic communications and minoring in marketing. She intends to graduate in May of 2024 and complete her master's in marketing. Riley-Kate's preferred pronouns are she/her/hers. Some of Riley-Kate's interests are playing tennis, drinking iced chai, traveling, film photography, sustainability, writing, and fashion. She is also a big advocate for human and environmental rights. Riley-Kate is always thinking of ways that she can help make the world a better place.