Sargeant’s Orders: What Coco Gauff’s win at the U.S. Open means for women’s tennis 

Coco Gauff of the United States reacts after winning a point against Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic during the singles final of the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Mason, Ohio. Photo by Aaron Doster/AP Photo

If you asked 10 random people what players are on their “Mount Rushmore” of women’s tennis, you’d hear names like Billie Jean King, Steffi Graf and, of course, Serena Williams. All of these women are excellent, making achievements both on and off the court. When Williams announced her retirement in 2022, women’s tennis lacked a nationally-recognized superstar in the game. However, following Coco Gauff’s win last Saturday, she took her first steps toward filling that vacancy. 

Gauff had to fight hard for this honor, and her unique mental toughness was on display for two weeks for the entertainment of millions worldwide. She lost her first set three times, and in four instances, she went the distance for the full three sets. Not only was Saturday’s Women’s U.S. Open final one of the most exciting matches of the entire tournament, but it was also one of the most-watched women’s sports events ever. In fact, the women’s final averaged over a million more viewers than the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, a huge win for women’s sports as a whole. Viewership was up 92% for this year’s women’s championship compared to last year, a testament to tennis fans’ hunger for a new star. 

Before Saturday, unless you are an avid tennis fan, you probably haven’t heard Gauff’s name for some time. However, Gauff is no stranger to shocking the world. In 2019, at the age of 15, Gauff had one of the most improbable runs in recent memory on arguably an even bigger stage: Wimbledon. Gauff came into the oldest tennis tournament in the world severely underestimated and gave the rest of the field a run for their money. First on the slate was her childhood idol, Venus Williams. The 15-year-old American came in as the significant underdog, ranked No. 313 in the world; Venus was on another level and in the top 50 at the time. To put into context the age difference between these two athletes, the Georgia native wasn’t even alive to witness Venus’ four grand slam titles. However, there they were, mano a mano, in the first round of the tournament. Gauff got off to a quick start, winning the first set 6-4, and from there, she kept her foot on the gas pedal, winning 6-4 to give her an emotional victory. Gauff would win two more matches before being bounced out on “Manic Monday.” The young athlete’s win against Venus was not only shocking in the sense of an underdog story, but it also represented the passing of the torch from one generation to another. 

Tennis legend John McEnroe attested to this by saying, “Venus Williams, when the draw was coming out, would have been saying, ‘please don’t put me against Coco Gauff’ because it’s like looking in the mirror… I don’t say this lightly, but if she isn’t No.1 by the time she is 20 I would be absolutely shocked.” 

The ATP Tennis rankings do not have Gauff at No. 1; she’s third on the pyramid. If you aren’t convinced of the parallels between Gauff and the Williams sisters, Serena became world No. 1 at the age of 20, meaning Gauff can very well match that impressive feat. That is the part that Gauff’s competitors should be very afraid of; she’s so young. After all, when Serena became world No. 1 for the first time, she hadn’t yet reached her full potential. She was only getting better, and the same can be said for Gauff as she finished the job this time around. In 2022, she narrowly lost in the French Open final in straight sets to Iga  Świątek. 

Coco Gauff, of the United States, celebrates match point against Karolina Muchova, of the Czech Republic, during the women’s singles final of the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament, Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, in Mason, Ohio. Photo by Aaron Doster/AP Photo

Gauff’s performance on the court is extraordinary, but what she does off of it is just as inspiring.  

Despite being so young, the Georgia native is an impressive role model for young men and women all across the country, using her platform to express herself in conversations about political issues that are significant to her, which include racial injustice, climate change and Flordia’s recent passage of HB 1557, which many have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.  

Gauff spoke out against the legislation, saying “I think these conversations are important, and for me, who has friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I couldn’t imagine not being able to talk about your identity,” Gauff said. “I feel that’s something that is normal.” 

King presented Gauff with her $3 million check, and in case you are not familiar with tennis history, King is a trailblazer herself; because of King’s efforts 50 years ago, the U.S. Open became the first major sporting event to pay men and women equally, helping to close the gender pay gap we see in sports. Gauff’s childhood icon, Serena Williams, has done much to advance many social issues, including the gender pay gap, saying, “The cycles of poverty, discrimination, and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles… most black women across our country do not have the same support that I did, and so they often don’t speak out about what is just, fair and appropriate in the workplace. When they do, they are often punished for it.” Because of Serena’s off-the-court activism work, she has become an inspiration to many little girls around the world to follow their dreams, Gauff included, and it seems that Gauff is doing the same thing as her hero: using her platform for change and inspiring the next generation of young women. Gauff winning the U.S. Open this past weekend makes her platform and ability to reach audiences much more significant. Don’t be surprised when you hear the name Coco Gauff, as she will continue to make her presence known. 

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