How Coco Gauff became a bona fide tennis superstar at just 16 years old

Mark Brown/Getty ImagesOne thing is for certain: there’s plenty more money, endorsements, and titles to come for this teenage superstar.
  • Despite being 16 years old, Cori “Coco” Gauff has become a household name in the tennis world.
  • The American wunderkind has set several records as one of the youngest-ever stars to find success on the WTA circuit.
  • She’s taken down the likes of Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka and advanced into the later rounds of multiple Grand Slam tournaments.
  • Check out 36 photos of Gauff’s meteoric rise to tennis greatness below:
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.


Coco Gauff is already one of the most accomplished tennis players on the planet, and she’s just 16 years old.

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Gauff is currently the youngest star ranked in the world’s top 100 as determined by the World Tennis Association.

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports


Source:
WTA


She catapulted to superstardom after defeating then-world No. 44 Venus Williams in straight sets at Wimbledon in 2019.

AP Photo/Tim Ireland

At 15 years and three months old, Gauff was the youngest player to qualify for the tournament’s main draw in the history of the Open Era.

AP Photo/Tim Ireland


Source:
The Sydney Morning Herald


But Gauff was preparing herself for tennis greatness well before her massive upset on the world’s biggest stage.

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

She has an innate athletic ability, but that’s not exactly a surprise; her dad, Corey, played college basketball at Georgia State, and her mum, Candi, ran track for Florida State.

Karwai Tang/Getty Images

Her height, long arms, and “weird wingspan” — according to her dad — certainly help as well.

AP Photo/Alastair Gran


Source:
ESPN


Coco first became inspired to play tennis at four years old when she watched Serena Williams win the 2009 Australian Open.

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports


Source:
ESPN


And in 2012 — just two years after she picked up a racquet for the first time — Gauff won the “Little Mo” eight-and-under nationals slam.

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports


Source:
ESPN


Shortly thereafter, her family moved from Atlanta to Delray Beach, Florida, to improve her access to training and competitive opportunities.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis


Source:
Tennis.com


And it paid off; two years later, Gauff became the youngest USTA Clay Court National 12-under winner at 10 years and three months old.

AP Photo/Tim Ireland


Source:
ESPN


She’d long been voicing her desire to be “the greatest of all time,” but the wunderkind’s early success at the junior elite level gave the ambitious declaration more credence.

REUTERS/Hannah Mckay


Source:
ESPN


Around the same time, Gauff began training with Serena Williams’ longtime coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who recognised her generational talent as soon as he saw it: “She’s just different. It’s something I have known since I met her.”

Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images


Source:
Tennis365


“When you meet people who are exceptional, you know it,” Mouratoglou added. “I feel it straight away. Since that day, she’s been surprising me all the time, even though I know she’s so special.”

REUTERS/Hannah Mckay


Source:
Tennis365


The young Gauff began competing on the ITF Junior Circuit as soon as she was eligible; she made her junior Grand Slam debut at the 2017 US Open — just four events into her junior career — and made it to the finals.

Chaz Niell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


Source:
US Open


Once again, she made history, becoming the competition’s youngest-ever girls’ singles finalist at 13 years old.

Al Bello/Getty Images


Source:
US Open


In June of the following year, she won the junior-level French Open and, one month later, became the world’s top-ranked juniors player and the youngest-ever to earn the No. 1 spot at 14 years and four months month.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Source:Roland-Garros, USTA


She made the jump to the ITF Women’s Circuit in May of 2018 and, a few months later, she qualified for the US Open on a wild card draw.

REUTERS/Clive Brunskill

Source:Tennis World USA, Tennis.com


She began 2019 by making it to the later rounds of a handful of tournaments before making her WTA main draw debut at the Miami Open.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images


Source:
WTA


And then, after losing during qualifiers at the French Open, Coco had her Wimbledon breakthrough, beating then-world No. 92 Aliona Bolsova and then-No. 128 Greet Minnen for the main draw.

REUTERS/Toby Melville


Source:
The Sydney Morning Herald


After her career-defining victory over Venus Williams, Gauff advanced to the fourth round of the tournament thanks to wins against Magdaléna Rybáriková and then-No. 60 Polona Hercog.

REUTERS/Toby Melville


Source:
WTA


Her Cinderella run finally came to an end against Simona Halep, who would go on to win the tournament that year, but Coco still jumped to No. 141 in the WTA rankings after the sensational showing.

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth


Source:
WTA


Gauff earned a wild card at the US Open later that summer and breezed through her first two rounds before falling in straight sets to world-No. 1 Naomi Osaka.

AP Photo/Adam Hunger


Source:
WTA


Osaka encouraged the 15 year old to join her for the post-match on-court interview, which is typically reserved for the winner, and went on to say “I think you guys are amazing, and Coco, I think you’re amazing.”

Kyodo News via Getty Images


Source:


ESPN


Gauff — who was 15 at the time — bounced back stunningly, breaking through win her first WTA title at the 2019 Linz Open to become the youngest player since 2004 to win a WTA singles title.

BARBARA GINDL/APA/AFP via Getty Images

Source:Tennis.com, Forbes


Serena and Venus Williams, by contrast, were both 17 years old when they first broke through for their first WTA singles championship victories.

AP Photo/Rick Stevens


Source:
Forbes


Coco started 2020 with a bang at the Australian Open, defeating the elder of the Williams sisters in the first round of a Grand Slam.

AP Photo/Dita Alangkara


Source:
BBC


Then, in the third round, she exacted revenge against then-No. 3 Naomi Osaka in straight sets.

AP Photo/Lee Jin-man


Source:
The New York Times


She lost to eventual champion Sofia Kenin in the next round, but her performance was enough to bump her up to No. 51 in the world, her highest WTA ranking at the time.

Mark Brown/Getty Images


Source:
WTA


The rest of 2020 hasn’t been quite as kind to Gauff, who lost in the first round of the US Open and the second round of the French Open.

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Still, she made plenty of strides — particularly off the court — in 2020, Gauff began using her platform to raise awareness of police brutality, and racial inequities in America after the death of George Floyd rocked the nation.

AP Photo/James Crisp

16-year-old tennis star Coco Gauff delivers a powerful message on police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death


And, at just 16 years old, she made an impassioned speech at her local Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Florida: “I think it’s sad that I’m here protesting the same thing that [my grandmother] did 50-plus years ago.”

CocoGauff/Twitter

Coco Gauff delivered an impassioned speech at her local Black Lives Matter peaceful protest: ‘If you are choosing silence, you are choosing the side of the oppressor’


And that’s reflected in her bank account as well; she signed a multi-year deal with New Balance — who outbid Nike for the then-14-year-old’s services — back in 2018.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Source:CNN, Forbes


Likewise, Coco has long-term deals with Head racquets and Barilla.

AP Photo/Andy Brownbill


Source:
Forbes


According to Forbes, she was slated to make more than $US1 million in endorsement money alone in 2019 in addition to the $US900,000+ she’s earned in prize money over her career.

Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

Source:Forbes, WTA,CNBC


One thing is for certain: there’s plenty more money, endorsements, and titles to come for this teenage superstar.

BARBARA GINDL/APA/AFP via Getty Images

Now check out the story of Naomi Osaka’s ascension to the top of the tennis world:

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

How Naomi Osaka rose to the top of the tennis world to become a 3-time Grand Slam champion and a leading voice for social justice

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