Gun violence, Netflix, Federer
Child prodigy Gauff, the stormy revolution
By David Needy, Berlin
6/26/2022, 6:52 p.m
Tennis teen Coco Gauff is a fighter. On and off the pitch. A superstar without a Grand Slam title. While campaigning for equality and against gun violence in the USA, she drives a small revolution. Before Wimbledon there is this one big dream.
Scuttling in place, your feet bounce slightly off the already somewhat worn grass. The double-handed backhand swings powerfully forward. Cori Gauff doesn’t change a face. The 18-year-old teenage sensation from the USA, just called Coco by everyone, is taking part in the new Berlin lawn tournament. In the nationwide heat wave at almost 30 degrees Celsius, she wears a black sports jacket over her outfit, while her opponent is already sweating in light tennis clothing.
Even in this scene it becomes clear: Gauff is different from all the others. She’s doing her thing. Fearless. And in the long run, few will be able to stop her on the court. For Gauff, the tennis court is just one of many places where she fights. Because this teenager is already a small revolution. A superstar, even without a Grand Slam title.
Berlin. After the sand season, Gauff first has to adjust. You don’t get the grass right away, she even falls in the first game. Her finals in Paris at the French Open were only a few days ago. After the bankruptcy in the final, she cries bitter tears. “When I started here, I thought I would play terribly,” she told ntv.de in Berlin.
Draft horse in transit
But Gauff has so much talent and willpower that she adapts to the circumstances. In the round of 16, the complicated opening game is followed by a lesson for Xinyu Wang from China. With 6:0, 6:4, the adult who has only been two months has swept her opponent off the field. The first set lasts only 20 minutes. Gauff brings back almost every ball. Her enormous talent for movement, her dynamic footwork combined with her sheer power and precision in her shots predestine her to win a Grand Slam tournament soon.
Then, in the quarter-finals, Karolina Pliskova, a lawn specialist and former number one in the world, awaits. In 2021 she is in the Wimbledon final. It is precisely against these greats of the tennis world that Gauff still has to assert himself in order to get to the top of the world rankings. Since June 20, she has been listed there as twelfth. Your best placement so far.
It will be a far tougher fight than against Wang. But one thing quickly becomes clear to all spectators in Berlin: If there is one thing Gauff can do, in addition to her precise power shots, then it is fighting. After the teenager fended off four set balls when the score was 4:5, she broke Pliskova in the next game and won the first set 7:5. The Czech lawn expert is amazed. Impacts of up to 203 kilometers per hour rush towards them. In the history of tennis, the record for women is 211 kilometers per hour, set by the German Sabine Lisicki. Again and again Gauff knocks out her parry stroke, backhand down the line, which technically cannot be played more cleanly. Again and again, the 175-centimetre-tall Gauff serves with a slice to the outside in order to be able to attack directly and powerfully. More than 80 percent of the first serves end up in the field in the second set, which she fights 6: 4 to the end.
For the tournament in the capital, which took place for the first time in 2021 and is intended to build on the glorious “German Open” (then on sand) of the 80s and 90s with nine-time winner Steffi Graf, the young Gauff is a kind of draft horse after the World number one and French Open winner Iga Swiatek and four-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka canceled. For the darling of the public, however, it is only a stopover. The teenager has long been concerned with more. For the really big tournaments. Although she has only won two WTA titles, after reaching the final at the French Open, she is considered a co-favorite for the title in Wimbledon. The most renowned tournament on the tennis calendar starts tomorrow, Monday.
Even Federer rebuked
Gauf is all the more pleased to reach her first semi-final on grass in Berlin. It’s over there against the top seed and later tournament winner Ons Jabeur, but London should be the next big step for the fighter. “I want to win the title in Wimbledon,” she confidently told ntv.de in Berlin. She knows that it would be difficult, but: “That’s my greatest hope.”
In 2019, Gauff made her breakthrough on the professional tour in Wimbledon at the age of just 15. As a qualifier, she defeated one of her role models in Venus Williams and was only stopped in the round of 16 by the eventual winner Simona Halep. The tennis world is beside itself. While Gauff still needs to work on her forehand and her game is still a little too predictable, the teenager has improved tremendously since 2019. Possibly so far that she can fight her way to her first Grand Slam.
But because she also fights against grievances openly, loudly and consistently, Gauff is also a role model and an inspiration for many off the tennis court. Especially for young black people, especially women and girls. Gauff always speaks very openly and directly and encourages girls and women of color to stand up for themselves, to lead the way loudly and to fight for justice. The personified “female empowerment”. Again and again the teenager fights against racism and for Black Lives Matter and justice. She knows exactly about her platform and uses it powerfully. And that even as a 15 or 16 year old.
Two years ago, she even rebuked tennis legend Roger Federer, after the 20-time Grand Slam champion tweeted merely a black square in support of the Black Lives Matter protests, attaching a post detailing how people can support the cause concretely. The link thumbnail carries an important message: “When you’re done: educate yourself. This won’t go away once the topic stops trending”.
In a society that still refuses to recognize the full worth of Black women, Gauff is strong and confident, and not afraid to speak up for herself and her interests. This is still not a matter of course in sport – especially not in white tennis. Although tennis was greatly changed by Gauff’s role models Serena and Venus Williams, it is still predominantly played by white people.
Gauff is now continuing to fight the revolution that the Williams sisters started. After the devastating massacres in their home country, a lot is currently revolving around gun violence and gun laws. Again, this issue is one that has to do with racism because black people in the States have a ten times higher riskto die from a gun than white Americans.
And of course Gauff is not silent at this point either, after all she grew up in the US state of Georgia and now has her center of life in Florida. Both states are known for lax gun laws. Compared to ntv.de, she advocates stricter gun laws in her home country: “I’m 18 years old and it’s much more difficult for me to buy a beer or rent a car than to buy a gun. That’s crazy!” Everyone would tell her she was mature for her age, but “I don’t think I could handle owning a gun”. In larger cities in the US, she “definitely has it in mind” that a gun massacre could break out. Her 9- and 14-year-old brothers attend regular schools and it is “insane” that she has to explain to them how to behave in the event of an attack before they go to the cinema, for example. Open words, which are extremely rarely expressed by athletes who so often fall into empty phrases.
Netflix or bed
Gauff is a small revolution. On and off the pitch. In Berlin, she admits that she sometimes looks a little jealous at the lives of her friends. “Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t play tennis,” explains the teenager thoughtfully. “But tennis is just a lot of fun for me. If at some point I don’t want to play anymore, then I just stop. It doesn’t matter how early or late in my career that is. But I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon.”
In conversation, however, the teenage existence of the 18-year-old often flashes through. The American with neon green fingernails laughs a lot and jokes. After one of her matches in Berlin, she reveals that after her games she actually only watches Netflix – she recommends “Stranger Things” and “House of Money” – or goes straight to bed.
She also caused smiles on Twitter when she was recently looking for a mixed partner for Wimbledon. “I got 10 to 15 serious letters,” she grins. Who wouldn’t want to play with the open, justice-focused and perhaps soon-to-be world number one?