Coco Gauff
Coco Gauff of the United States holds the trophy after defeating Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka in the US Open tennis tournament women's singles final at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City, on September 9, 2023. Gauff became the 10th teenager to win at Flushing Meadows. Image Credit: AFP

Coco Gauff is the US Open women’s champion. A grand slam winner finally, some would add. Come on, she’s only 19. A major title at that age may seem incredible, but women’s tennis has seen a fair share of teenage champions. Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and others were grand slam champions before they turned 20. Everyone expected Gauff to follow in their footsteps. When it didn’t happen, they wrote her off.

Being a teenage prodigy is tough. The pressure to win can be oppressive. Ask Emma Raducanu. The Briton has been derided by critics after her impressive run at Wimbledon ended in a withdrawal; she didn’t have the stomach for a fight, they said. And when she won the 2021 US Open, they said she had a lucky draw and dismissed her as a one-hit wonder.

Gauff too has been dismissed as mediocre. Her best days are behind her, her detractors said.

For a player who turned pro at 14, Gauff has done remarkably well. A fine win over a fast-fading Venus Williams, 39, at Wimbledon in 2019 underscored her burgeoning talent. The American came close to winning a major at Roland Garros two years later, losing to Iga Swiatek in the French Open final. That was just the many losses to the Polish star.

Swiatek was the dominant player in 2022 and Gauff’s nemesis, having lost all their meetings. After falling to Swiatek at the Dubai Duty Free tennis, Gauff said, “I must have done something wrong in all the matches.” The American finally overcame her archrival in Cincinnati last month during an unbeaten streak that won her two titles.

The resurgence came on the back of a teary first-round exit at Wimbledon at the hands of Sofia Kenin. Since then, Gauff hasn’t looked back. A lot of the turnaround owes it to the change in the coaching staff.

Her father Corey Gauff made way for Pere Riba this year, and Brad Gilbert came on board after the All England fiasco. Gauff won 18 of her last 19 matches, and her 12-match win streak in 39 days includes the Washington Open and Cincinnati Open titles before the crowning at the US Open.

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Gauff’s triumph at the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday fulfils her promise. A promise that has been a millstone around her neck since 2018. More so after the barren patch following her 2019 Linz Open win, which only increased the army of her doubters. That didn’t bother Gauff, who used the negative comments to fuel her fight to win. “Thank you for the people who didn’t believe in me,” she said after the triumph at Flushing Meadows.

For a player who grew up under the weight of other people’s expectations, Gauff has found her wings. But the competition is fierce. Look at this year’s grand slam champions: Aryna Sabalenka the Australian Open champ, Iga Swiatek the French Open title holder and Marketa Vondrousova the Wimbledon winner. All of them are in their early twenties, with Gauff snapping at their heels.

The future of women’s tennis is bright. Gauff’s too. The US Open is just the first step. More major titles are on the way.