A tennis coach vividly remembers the day he was summoned to the Rainberry Bay Tennis Club in Delray Beach, Florida, to watch a young girl hit. He was so impressed by what he saw that he immediately accepted the job to coach her, commenting at the time the 8-year-old “is going to be a champ.”
Gerard Loglo, that tennis coach, knew.
A father using the unconventional guidebook of Richard Williams, who raised tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, to raise a Black tennis star realized his daughter’s fiery competitive spirit at a young age, admiring her refuse-to-lose approach in everything from checkers to basketball. Watching her exceed expectations as she took up tennis, he told her she “would entertain the world with her racket.”
Corey Gauff, the dad, knew.
Which makes it incredible that Coco Gauff, who won the US Open championship and her first Grand Slam title in Saturday’s exciting win over Aryna Sabalenka, carried doubts about winning a tennis major as recently as the morning of her US Open semifinal match against Karolína Muchova on Sept 7.
“I was like, that Cincinnati final. I beat her because Muchova wasn’t physically ready to play that final,” Gauff said. “Then … I looked in the mirror and I was like, ‘no, you’re a good player and you can beat her regardless of her physical standard.’ ”
Gauff, showcasing her brilliant tennis skills in Saturday’s championship match and since Aug. 4, has proved she has the ability to dominate any player in the women’s game. Over those five weeks, Gauff has defeated five women currently ranked in WTA top 10 (Sabalenka, Iga Świątek, Muchova, Maria Sakkari, and Marketa Vondroušová).
That ability to beat, over a short stretch, what could be deemed the murderers’ row of women’s pro tennis should erase all the inner doubts Gauff revealed earlier this year when the 19-year-old expressed the insecurities she felt in an interview with the WTA website.
“Imposter syndrome is a thing,” Gauff said. “So, sometimes I get that, but it’s something that I’m working on to realize I’m here for a reason and my ranking is here for a reason and I definitely deserve that.”
Gauff’s WTA ranking this week: world No. 3, her highest since turning pro in 2015 (behind the new No. 1 Sabalenka, and Świątek at No. 2). That’s an improvement of three places (Gauff was No. 6 last week), tying Vondroušová for the highest jump among top-10 players.
The US Open win in her second appearance in a Slam final allowed Gauff to reach the high bar many set for her when she burst on the scene four years ago at the age of 15 with a win over Venus Williams on the way to reaching the tournament’s second week before losing in straight sets to Simona Halep, the eventual champion.
“I think people put a lot of pressure on me to win and I felt that at 15, then I had to win a Slam,” Gauff said after her win on Saturday. “Everything led to this moment, so there were no mistakes. But that was a little bit of the pressure that I was feeling.”
In her first Slam win, four years in the making since Gauff defeated Venus Williams in 2019 Wimbledon, she realizes that the molding of some of the greatest champions in sports takes time. It took NBA legend Michael Jordan seven seasons to win his first title with the Chicago Bulls. NBA champion LeBron James finally won his first championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in his ninth season. Tennis player Novak Djokovic spent five years on tour before winning the 2008 Australian Open.
The perception is that Gauff has all the tools to dominate the sport: her court coverage, length, ability to mix up her shots. Now, her confidence seemingly puts her in position, at 19, to be the dominant women’s player in tennis.
The reality is that, ever since Serena Williams won her last major at the Australian Open in 2017, women’s tennis has played out more like a sports version of Game of Thrones: Halep won a couple of majors in just over a year and appeared ready to dominate, Ashleigh Barty, for a stretch, seemed unbeatable and Naomi Osaka (four Slams between 2018 and 2021) and Świątek (four Slams since 2020, and three since 2022).
There have been, since Serena Williams’ last Slam, 15 women who have won their first Slam in the 26 majors played (57.69%). The women’s game is in such a state of flux it would be near appropriate for TV talk host Oprah Winfrey to show up at the four awards ceremonies.
“You get a Slam, and you get a Slam, and you get a Slam …”
Variety among winners is good for the game.
A dominant figure in the top spot is better.
The interest in the Tiger Woods era of golf will never be duplicated, and the same can be said of Serena Williams in women’s tennis and the dominance by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and now Djokovic on the men’s side.
Is Coco Gauff satisfied with achieving her goal of winning a Slam title? Or will the taste of victory at the US Open unleash a hunger, a drive to remain satiated?
Gauff, at 8 years old, got an early taste of the US Open, dancing near her upper deck seat during kids day at Arthur Ashe Stadium in 2012.
“She had a dream,” Gauff said of that video. “I don’t know if she fully believed it.”
In 2017 at age 12, Gauff was just weeks from from winning her first Junior Orange Bowl title, winning her seven matches in straight sets. Inspired by Serena and Venus Williams, Gauff was asked how big of a star she could become in the sport.
“I want to be the greatest of all time.”
Gauff, now 19, is now a US Open champion. She’s the youngest American player to win the US Open since Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam in 1999 at the age of 17.
The early prophecies of her coach and father are fulfilled. That coach, Loglo, told me during a 2019 interview, that Gauff would be the US Open champion in three years.
He was wrong.
It took four.
“You told me you were going to call when it happened and then I see your call,” Loglo said by phone Sunday afternoon. “I was impressed how she kept everything in emotionally. She was in a zone in terms of what she wanted to do.”
Loglo spent the early part of Sunday grooming the next generation of players.
“They have a new role model now,” Loglo said. “Just like Coco wanted to be Serena, all the Black girls now want to be [Coco].”
And what about that prophecy from Gauff, where she expressed a desire to be an all-time great in the sport?
Now that she’s got a taste, the ball is in her court.
“In the French Open moment [her 2022 loss to Świątek] I watched Iga lift that trophy,” Gauff said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to take my eyes off her because I want to feel what it felt like for her.’ ”
Now that she has experienced that feeling, Gauff knows she must now embrace the change that includes the demands on her time, her desire to remain among the best in the sport and the target on her back from other players.
“I’m ready,” Gauff declared.
Gauff is ready because she now knows what everyone else — her early coaches, her father — already knew.