Last year, the world bid farewell to legendary tennis star Serena Williams as she competed in her final U.S. Open tournament, concluding her impressive 27-year-long professional tennis career. This year, the world embraced a tennis star in the making, as Coco Gauff broke barriers at Saturday’s U.S. Open by becoming the first American teenager to claim the U.S. Open title since Serena Williams won it at the age of 17 in 1999.
In 2019, the American teenager rose into the spotlight and became a tennis phenomenon after beating world-class star Venus Williams in the opening round of Wimbledon. Coco became the youngest qualifier in history to compete in a Wimbledon tournament, as she was only 15 years old.
Since entering the spotlight at a young age, Coco has faced immense pressure from critics and fans through constant comparisons between herself and Serena Williams, as some commented saying the young star would not win a Grand Slam title before Williams won her first one.
It is easy to forget how young the American teen is and to overlook the impeccable talent she holds at such a young age. Saturday marked her second time competing in a Grand Slam title. Gauff competed in the U.S. Open at the age of 17 in 2021 and unfortunately lost in the second round to former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens. The teen star returned this year ready to compete for her second Grand Slam, and the world watched in awe as she triumphed over No. 1 tennis player Aryna Sabalenka, winning the U.S. Open title.
Gauff entered the U.S. Open ranked No. 6 in the world in singles and will rise to No. 3 on Monday following her win. To put this into perspective, the next highest-ranked teenager, Linda Noskova, is ranked No. 41. This ranking is a testament to Coco’s impeccable talent at the ripe age of 19.
Coco Gauff went from being a kid in the stands to a US Open champion.— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 9, 2023
Anything is possible. pic.twitter.com/1kce1ANO6E
Tennis has constantly been at the forefront of change as it is an ever-evolving sport in activism and equality. This year’s Grand Slam marked the 50th anniversary since the U.S. Open became the first major sports event to pay men and women the same prize money. Distinguished tennis star Billie Jean King, an advocate for equal pay who lobbied for it in 1973, was in attendance on Saturday, watching history in the making as Coco became the youngest American player to win a U.S. Open title since Serena Williams.
The sport has seen numerous athletes advocate for change. Gauff claimed her U.S. Open title in Arthur Ashe Stadium, further signifying how far the sport has evolved. Influential tennis star Arthur Ashe was the first African-American male to win a Grand Slam title when he competed in the 1968 U.S. Open. Following his triumphs, he advocated for civil rights and played a significant role in desegregating the sport.
It is not a coincidence that a year after Serena Williams’ final U.S. Open tournament appearance, the American teen claimed her first U.S. Open title in Arthur Ashe Stadium with Billie Jean King in attendance. Serena Williams broke many barriers for women and, more specifically, African-American women in a historically White and male-dominated sport. From one tennis great to the next, the sport has seen an outstanding share of activism. Now that the tennis world has bid farewell to Serena Williams, Gauff seems to be the next rising star who will continue to break barriers and make history in the tennis world.