In the first Grand Slam singles match of her career, 15-year-old Cori Gauff upset 39-year-old Venus Williams — who had inspired Gauff’s interest in the sport as a child.
“On the court, I was not thinking about Venus,” Gauff said after the match, according to The New York Times. “I was just playing my game. No matter who I play against, I want to win. So that’s what I was just thinking about the whole time. I wasn’t really thinking about who I was facing on the other side of the net.”
But once she secured a win at 6-4, 6-4, she was indeed thinking about her opponent. As they shook hands across the net, Gauff told Williams what she has meant to her. “I was just telling her thank you for everything she’s done for the sport,” Gauff said. “She’s been an inspiration for many people. I was just really telling her thank you. I met her before, but I didn’t really have the guts to say anything. I mean, now or never.”
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Gauff, who grew up in Delray Beach, Florida, became the youngest U.S. Open junior girls finalist in history at age 13 and the second youngest French Open junior girls champion at age 14, according to the Times. Her parents were athletes as well: Her father was a point guard at Georgia State, while her mother was a heptathlete and hurdler at Florida State.
As a young girl, Gauff, whose nickname is Coco, watched Serena and Venus Williams winning big titles. Inspired, she began pursuing tennis. She also liked the skirts, said her father, who serves as her coach, according to the Times.
Gauff is the youngest player in the Wimbledon draw. Williams, a five-time Wimbledon singles champion, was the oldest.
After the two women played, Gauff thanked not just Williams, but the Wimbledon organizers for offering her a wild card into the qualifying tournament. Ranked 313th in the world at the time, she won all three qualifying matches in straight sets, becoming the youngest woman to qualify for Wimbledon in the Open era, according to the Times.
“My dad told me that I could do this when I was eight. Obviously you never believe it. I’m still not, like 100 percent confident,” she said. “You never know what happens. If I went into this match saying, ‘Let me see how many games I can get against her,’ then I most definitely would not have won. My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That’s what happened. I think people just kind of limit themselves too much.”
Read the full story at The New York Times.