8 times teenage tennis phenom Coco Gauff was wise beyond her years

Coco Gauff.
Coco Gauff.REUTERS/Hannah Mckay
  • Tennis star Coco Gauff became famous at 15 when she beat the legendary Venus Williams at Wimbledon.

  • Since then, the American phenom has proven time and again that she's wise beyond her years.

  • Here are eight times Gauff showcased her remarkable maturity as a teenager in the spotlight.

NEW YORK — Coco Gauff is one of the best tennis players on the planet.

She's also just 19, though it's easy to forget from watching her play or hearing her speak.

The teenage phenom skyrocketed to fame when, at just 15, she upset the legendary Venus Williams in the opening round of Wimbledon. She's been in the spotlight ever since — finishing high school while competing in Grand Slams and earning millions of dollars for her efforts.

Now, just six months removed from entering her 20s, Gauff is competing in the second Grand Slam final of her career and proving time and again that she's ready for the prominence her talent affords. Here are eight times she's showcased her remarkable maturity as a teenager in the spotlight:

After beating Venus Williams at Wimbledon in 2019, Gauff thanked the 7-time Grand Slam champion 'for everything she's done for the sport.'

Coco Gauff (right) shakes hands with Venus Williams after their match at Wimbledon 2019.
Coco Gauff (right) shakes hands with Venus Williams after their match at Wimbledon 2019.AP Photo/Tim Ireland

Gauff was fresh off the biggest victory of her career, by far, when she walked to the net to shake hands with her idol and an icon of her sport. After the elder Williams sister congratulated her on the win, the then-15-year-old had the presence of mind to tell her opponent, "Thank you."

"She's been an inspiration for many people," Gauff said in her post-match press conference. "I was just really telling her thank you. I met her before but I didn't really have the guts to say anything, so I was like 'now or never!'"

Wimbledon also posted on Twitter that Gauff told Williams, "I wouldn't be here without you."



In May 2020, shortly after the death of George Floyd, a then-16-year-old Gauff offered the world a powerful message on police brutality.

Coco Gauff.
Coco Gauff.AP Photo/Michel Euler

Just days after the May 2020 death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer, Gauff joined a growing chorus of athletes speaking out against police brutality.

The 16-year-old posted a video to TikTok in which she declared that she would be "using my voice to fight against racism."

Gauff then displayed photos of well-known victims of police brutality, including Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Gardener, Freddie Gray, and more. She also depicted herself raising her hands above her head while wearing a black hoodie and questioned "Am I next?"


The following month, as Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation, the young star delivered an impassioned speech in her hometown.

coco gauff
Coco Gauff.AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

At a local peaceful protest in Delray Beach, Florida, in the wake of George Floyd's untimely death, Gauff spoke directly after her grandmother and said, "I think it's sad that I'm here protesting the same thing that she did 50-plus years ago."

"No matter how big or small your platform is, you need to use your voice," Gauff said. "You need to not be silent because if you are choosing silence, you are choosing the side of the oppressor."

"I demand change now," Gauff said in a video first posted to Twitter by The Palm Beach Post's Emily Sullivan. "It's sad that it takes another black man's life to be lost for all of this to happen, but we have to understand that this has been going on for years."

"I was eight years old when Trayvon Martin was killed, so why am I here at 16 still demanding change?" she continued. "It breaks my heart because I'm fighting for the future for my brothers. I'm fighting for the future for my future kids. I'm fighting for the future for my future grandchildren."

"We must change now, and I promise to always use my platform to spread vital information, spread awareness, and fight racism," Gauff concluded. "Black lives have always mattered."

Gauff later used her growing platform to highlight gun violence issues in the United States.

Coco Gauff celebrates during her opening match of the 2023 French Open.
Coco Gauff.AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias

Over the summer of 2022, Gauff became the youngest American since Serena Williams to make a Grand Slam women's singles final.

And to commemorate by far the biggest accomplishment of her young career — punching her ticket to that year's French Open final — Gauff chose "to use the platform that I have" to speak out about societal issues.

This time, that issue was gun violence; immediately following her win, the then-recent high school graduate wrote "Peace" and "End gun violence" on a camera lens at Roland-Garros.

Her message came just a week after a gunman her age shot and killed 21 people — including 19 children — at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

"It's a problem," Gauff said during a post-match interview. "It's been going on for years in the US, and I wanted to bring that attention."

"I know how many people are watching that match," she added. "So maybe [it will bring] some global attention to what's going on in the US. And I think we definitely need some change and reform regarding that aspect."

After realizing she had been trying to win matches 'for other people,' Gauff switched her mindset and started to thrive on the court like never before.

Coco Gauff at the 2022 French Open.
Coco Gauff at the 2022 French Open.AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias

For someone not yet 20 years old, Gauff has long had a remarkable ability to look inward and adjust her mindset. In 2022, she did so by taking a more selfish approach to tennis, and it helped power her to that summer's French Open final.

"At the beginning of this year, I lost at the Australian Open and a couple first rounds," Gauff said in her press conference following the final. "I think I was just going into the matches trying so hard to win — not for myself, but for other people. This tournament was the first tournament this year that I went in trying to win for myself. I think that was the difference in my mentality."

"Now that I've found that mental state, I know how to get there," she added. "And I think it'll help me in future tournaments."

The young phenom offered a beautiful tribute to Serena Williams — who was set to retire after the 2022 US Open — before her final tournament commenced.

Coco Gauff; Serena Williams.
Coco Gauff (left) and Serena Williams.AP Photo/Josie Lepe; AP Photo/Aaron Doster

Serena Williams has had an invaluable impact on aspiring tennis stars. Once upon a time, a young hopeful named Coco Gauff was no exception.

The American wunderkind grew up idolizing Williams — just like virtually every other budding talent in the sport. But as a young Black girl coming up in Florida's elite tennis scene, Gauff could relate to Williams to an extent few others could.

Ahead of the 2022 US Open — where Gauff had looked to win her first major title and Williams had more than likely played her last Grand Slam — the then-18-year-old lauded the 23-time Grand Slam champion for breaking through and becoming a legend "in a sport that's predominantly white."

"That's something that as a little girl — and even now — meant a lot to me," Gauff said during US Open media day that year. "Especially, like, growing up, before I was born, there wasn't many. Before Serena came along, there was not really an icon of the sport that looked like me.

"So growing up, I never thought that I was different because the No. 1 player in the world was somebody who looked like me," she added. "I think that's the biggest thing that I can take from what I've learned from Serena."

She was poised while discussing an environmental protest that interrupted her 2023 US Open semifinal.

Coco Gauff hits a backhand at the 2023 US Open.
Coco Gauff hits a backhand at the 2023 US Open.Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Though Gauff admitted after her victory over Karolina Muchova that it was "a bit challenging" to deal with a 50-minute break in the middle of her match, the 19-year-old also acknowledged that she "can't really get upset at" peaceful protests for meaningful causes.

"I believe in climate change," Gauff said after the match. "I don't really know exactly what they were protesting. I know it was about the environment."

"I 100% believe in that; I think there are things we can do better, and I know the tournaments are doing things to do better for the environment," she added. "Would I prefer it not happening in my match? 100%, yeah. I'm not gonna sit here and lie, but it is what it is."

Gauff said she had a feeling there would be a protest along these lines at some point during the tournament. She had mistakenly assumed that she was in the clear by the semis, but knows that "moments like this are history-defining moments."

"Like I said, I prefer it not to happen in my match, but I wasn't pissed at the protesters," Gauff said. "I always speak about preaching about what you feel and what you believe in. It was done in a peaceful way, so I can't get too mad at it."

"If that's what they felt they needed to do to get their voices heard, I can't really get upset at it," she added.

En route to her first career US Open singles final, Gauff said she altered her perspective to reclaim her joy on the court.

Coco Gauff smiles during her second-round match at the 2023 US Open.
Coco Gauff smiles during her second-round match at the 2023 US Open.REUTERS/Mike Segar

With millions of dollars in endorsements invested in her success and tens of thousands of fans flocking to her matches, Gauff started to feel an undue pressure to perform after her breakthrough on tennis' highest levels.

That pressure sapped much of the fun from the sport she loved. Realizing that perfection is unattainable and failure is inevitable is, in Gauff's words, "really where the mindset has changed."

"I realize that everybody loses, even the best of the best," she said. "I think that I really have to apply those mistakes and learn from those mistakes and apply it into future matches."

She managed to play her best tennis once that burden was lifted off her shoulders. Her 2023 run in Flushing Meadows marked her best-ever result at her home Grand Slam and made her the first American teenager since Serena Williams to reach the final of the US Open.

But it's a lack of emphasis on those results that she credits for her stellar play in New York City.

"I feel confident in my preparation, and I feel confident in my execution," Gauff told Insider. "I hope everything works out. At the same time, I'm not too worried if it doesn't."

"I'm really just enjoying the process of having a tennis career, the ups and downs," she added with a smile. "I know I'm up right now, and I know I'm going to experience a down. Hopefully not this week, but it could happen."

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