Making your mark on the world stage as a premier player isn’t easy. Many competent athletes never find their name in lights and never rise to the center of attention in their sport. This is much more difficult in individual sports, where merely being a cog in a machine isn’t enough to get recognition. You have to do all the hard work to get there yourself.
Imagine, then, becoming a world-famous player in your sport before you have even celebrated your Sweet Sixteen birthday. Welcome to the life of Coco Gauff, the next American tennis phenom who sits with the world at her feet at the tender age of just 15-years-old.
Gauff is an example of the old adage that if you are good enough, you are old enough. She is also a reminder that becoming one of the premier players in your sport can happen at any age if the talent, the desire, and the surroundings are in place to nurture the athlete.
Cases like this are unusual because it is time after the breakout moment that will define Gauff’s career path. After she beat Venus Williams in the opening round of the women’s singles at Wimbledon this year, Gauff could easily have immediately failed under the increased pressure and scrutiny that comes with beating an American tennis icon. Instead, she took the victory in her stride beating Magdelena Rybarikova and Polona Hercog. She then lost to eventual winner Simona Halep in the fourth round of her breakthrough event.
Gauff has the mental strength, the physical strength, and the technique of a player many years her senior. All of these attributes, attributes that will make anyone one of the premier players of tennis, will have to be honed over the course of the coming years.
She is far from the first young tennis player to make an impact on the world stage. Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova were both starlets of the sport, and both are cautionary tales. For Gauff to become the player she can be, one that could be talked about with some of the greats of the game, her focus will need to stay on tennis and not have her head turned by the fame that is sure to come her way.
Athletes have different ways of reacting to such a sudden change in their standing. For some, the trappings of fame are very real. The classic example is the difference between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf; the quarterbacks selected No. 1 and No. 2 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. Manning, a player so intently focused on the sport that he became a living meme before memes were even a thing, went on to become one of the greatest NFL players of all time. Leaf, a player who celebrated his drafting by partying in Las Vegas, is considered one of the most significant draft busts in history.
Gauff stands at a divergent point where she can become either Manning or Leaf. Reports of her looking to “buckle down” for future tournaments can only be seen as a good thing. Her desire to practice seen during Wimbledon week is also a promising sign. There is every reason to believe we will still be talking about Gauff as one of the premier players in tennis a decade from now if her post-Wimbledon routine is anything to go by.
Story by Steve Wright