NEW YORK: From the throngs of young fans who idolise her, to the tennis experts desperately seeking the sport’s “next big thing”, there is no shortage of expectations on the shoulders of 15-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff.
After seeing off five-times Wimbledon champion Venus Williams on the way to reaching the last 16 at the All England Club this year, Gauff enters the final Grand Slam of 2019 with the kind of megawatt attention usually reserved only for the sport’s highest echelon.
“I think the challenge for her at this event is the expectation, the size of the event, all the attention she’s going to be getting,” said Mark Kovacs, the executive director of the International Tennis Performance Association.
“She moves phenomenally well, she has a lot of power, so she’s playing years ahead of her age.”
The Floridian harnessed that power throughout a remarkable junior career in which she won the French Open junior title in 2018.
She claimed the women’s doubles title at last month’s Washington Open with fellow American teen Catherine McNally, her first WTA crown, but lost in the first round of the singles at the tournament.
Andy Roddick, U.S. Open champion in 2003, has been impressed by Gauff’s performances.
“The talent is there,” he told Reuters, adding that there were elements of her game that would improve over the next few years. “Speed, the way you move — she’s probably already among the best in the world. And serving power – she’s already there, 115, 118 on the radar gun. Those things will only get better.”
Gauff arrives at Flushing Meadows as a wildcard, along with four other teens, part of a raft of youngsters hoping to become the next big stars of the sport.
“She is the goods. She is the real deal. She seems to have a great head on her shoulders and I hope that we’re not in a rush to make her a start – she’ll get there,” said Roddick.
Gauff is, of course, far from the first young tennis talent to capture the public imagination. American Jennifer Capriati became the youngest Wimbledon semi-finalist in 1991 at age 15, while Russian Maria Sharapova won the tournament in 2004 when she was 17.
Gauff’s status as a premier tennis prodigy, however, has matched her popularity as a burgeoning cultural icon, landing a spot as this month’s cover girl for “Teen Vogue”, racking up roughly 400,000 Instagram followers and claiming an audience with former first lady Michelle Obama.
“Thrilled to visit with @CocoGauff today,” Obama (@MichalleObama) tweeted this month.
“A wonderful young woman who’s showing us that we don’t have to wait to see what the next generation can do.”