Teen Gauff wants to be 'the greatest'

An overwhelmed Cori Gauff after upsetting American compatriot and veteran Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 on Monday in the first round of Wimbledon. PHOTO: REUTERS
An overwhelmed Cori Gauff after upsetting American compatriot and veteran Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 on Monday in the first round of Wimbledon. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • From the moment Cori "Coco" Gauff walked onto No. 1 Court on Monday, her earphones on and head down, it looked as if she was ready to remove the kid gloves and leap the generation gap.

She already has the commercial endorsements and high-class accolades but, the 15-year-old, who said that her teachers did not know that she played tennis until she qualified for Wimbledon last week, has well and truly blown her cover.

School is out.

The only time that she betrayed the innocence of youth was at the end when she was consumed by the scale of her achievement in beating Venus Williams, 24 years her senior and the winner of four Grand Slam singles titles before Gauff was born.

There was not a scintilla of compensation, though, for her opponent, ranked 44th in the world, despite world No. 313 Gauff being inspired by her.

"The sky's the limit," Williams conceded after the 6-4, 6-4 defeat.

So the youngest qualifier to play at Wimbledon in the Open era inflicted intimations of mortality on an enduring great.

The win was impressive, the manner of it remarkable.

Gauff's big-hitting, preternaturally mature methodology was too much for Williams, who at least rolled back a year or two to save three match points, but had 26 unforced errors to eight from a player making her main-draw Grand Slam singles debut.

"I wasn't surprised I won. Just overwhelmed," Gauff, who will face Slovakia's 2017 Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova in the second round today.

In her post-match interview, Gauff wasted little time in declaring her long-term goals.

"I want to be the greatest," she said, echoing the kind of words that became synonymous with boxing icon Muhammad Ali.

In case anyone thought Gauff was full of hot air on the back of just one win, the great and the good of tennis were ready to back up her predictions. "She has been raised for greatness and this is just the beginning," said former WTA player and world No. 1 Tracy Austin.

Seven-time Grand Slam champion John McEnroe was even more vocal in his support, saying: "If she isn't No. 1 in the world by the time she is 20, I would be absolutely shocked. It was too bad for Venus that she had to play her."

While there are no guarantees, her talent is now evident for everyone to see.

REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline 'Teen Gauff wants to be 'the greatest''. Print Edition | Subscribe