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Coco Gauff’s Rise to Pro Tennis Has Ties to Florida State

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

Although her run at the U.S. Open came to a halt in a quarterfinal loss to France’s Caroline Garcia, Coco Gauff’s tennis future remains bright. Following this quarterfinal exit, Coco now ranks No. 8 in the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) Top 100 Singles Rankings, a career-high for the 18-year-old. She reached her first ever Grand Slam Final this year at the 2022 French Open, before losing to world No. 1 Iga Świątek of Poland, who was on a historic 37-match winning streak.

Every year since her 2018 debut in professional tennis, Coco Gauff has risen up the WTA rankings. Her poise has been one of her most outstanding traits to the world, appearing calm and collected even when competing against opponents more than 10 years her senior. Coco’s steady composure can be attributed to her highly involved support system which actually has ties to Florida State University.

Enter FSU alumni Candi Odom Gauff. Candi ran for FSU Track and Field from 1988-1992, competing in hurdles and the heptathlon. She still holds the seventh-best heptathlon score in FSU history.

Prior to her athletic career at FSU, Candi was an aspiring gymnast. When she was asked to move across states to continue her training, her mother, who was reluctant about the idea of her daughter living with strangers, shut down the opportunity. This barrier of opportunity forced Candi to shift careers, trading her leotard for a pair of track spikes. This tradeoff would result in Candi being named South Florida Sun Sentinel Athlete of the Year twice before competing for FSU Track and Field.

The pivotal shift in Candi’s athletic career would come back to guide her in the decision-making process of planning out her daughter Coco’s career. With her husband Corey, who became Coco’s head coach, the two former Division I athletes devised a 10-year plan for Coco’s training towards becoming a professional tennis player. This includes allowing Coco to train at the Mouratoglou Academy in France. The name Mouratoglou may ring a bell to tennis fanatics because the academy is named after its founder, Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena William’s longtime coach.

As a former teacher, Candi used her experience as an educator to homeschool Coco when the family moved to Delray Beach, Florida to continue her training. While Corey was tasked with coaching duties, Candi made sure that she was doing everything necessary for Coco to grow outside of tennis whether it was through her social life, her education, or as a woman. In an interview with Tennis Majors, Candi stated, “I became mainly the mom. To raise her and make sure that I’m raising a young lady.”

Although it seems like an obvious obligation from the mother, the impact of Candi’s support has contributed significantly to Coco’s success. In the world of tennis, familial engagement in the athlete’s life is nothing new. Richard Williams, father and former coach to Serena and Venus Williams, studied the game of tennis to coach his daughters. Together, Serena and Venus won 14 Grand Slam titles in doubles. Serena would go on to win 23 Grand Slam titles and Venus would win seven, albeit with coaching changes throughout their careers. Toni Nadal, the uncle of Rafael Nadal, threatened to stop coaching his nephew if he ever threw his racket out of frustration because it showed a lack of respect towards the sport and those who could not afford the equipment. Toni Nadal won 16 Grand Slam titles as Nadal’s former coach.

With the U.S. Open scheduled as the last Grand Slam of the calendar year, Coco Gauff’s next opportunities for a Grand Slam title await in 2023. For now, the 18-year-old will continue to grow on and off the court, recently earning her driver’s license.

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Savannah is a Public Health major from Jacksonville, Florida. She enjoys long walks on the beach, playing piano, and long distance running.