Coco Gauff is the new queen of American tennis

OPINION: The 19-year-old phenom who just won her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open is exactly what the post-Serena era needs.

Coco Gauff U.S. Open win
Coco Gauff of the United States lifts the winners' trophy received from Billie Jean King after her victory against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in the Women's Singles Final on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the US Open Tennis Championship 2023 at the USTA National Tennis Centre on September 9th, 2023 in Flushing, Queens, New York City. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Coco Gauff is the queen of American tennis. She may be the queen of tennis in general. After she won the U.S. Open, former champ Chris Evert called her “the face of women’s tennis right now.” 

Gauff is charismatic — she seems like a sweet girl off the court and yet also like a murderer on the court. She’s a crossover star, someone non-tennis fans care about. She has that “it” factor that makes a person a star. Gauff is so young — just 19 — that many of her Black fans want to protect her, and yet at the same time, we see her warrior energy, and we admire that, and we’re comfortable going into battle behind her. She is what it would look like if the warriors of Wakanda’s Dora Milaje played tennis.

Gauff is thrilling to watch — her power, speed and athleticism are awesome, but what Gauff is really all about is determination and the fighting spirit. You see that in the way Gauff conducts herself during a match. Her seriousness, her focus and her drive make her seem wise beyond her years. And when the match gets tight, Gauff steps up. She never chokes or lamely fades away. We can admire her maturity and wisdom while also connecting it to the woman-child we often see in Black America, that girl who’s so strong, she’s able to carry the load like an adult. Gauff is that in a tennis context — a teenager battling grown women and winning.

But the most exciting element of Gauff is that she never stops believing in herself. The first time she played Wimbledon, she won a match despite facing two match points. That caught my attention. That made me say, who is this Coco Gauff? She was just 15 at her first Wimbledon, yet she was out there battling like a champ coming from behind to win. On Saturday, at the U.S. Open, once again, Gauff was the comeback killer.

Gauff is, as of now, the No. 3 woman in the world. Her opponent, Aryna Sabalenka is now the No. 1 woman in the world, and she’s probably the biggest hitter in the world — her strokes are harder and more powerful than any other female player. It takes a lot to beat Sabalenka. When Sabalenka won the first set, I got nervous. Clearly, Gauff did not. She buckled down and pulled out the next two sets with great serving, solid defense and that undying sense of self-belief. Gauff’s never-give-in spirit is far more inspiring than her strokes. You feel great rooting for someone who seems to give it everything in their soul. 

We can say that Gauff has become the queen after an abdication by the last queen of tennis, Serena Williams, who retired a year ago, but there’s no need to see their stories as separate. They are intertwined. The Williams sisters are very much a part of the Gauff story. She grew up watching them and was inspired by them.

“Serena Williams has always been my idol … and Venus. They are the reason why I wanted to pick up a tennis racket,” she has said. Her game is not unlike theirs with her insistence on power strokes, big serves, speed around the court and that steely determination. 

Gauff is here because of what the Williams sisters did and the trail that they blazed. I wonder how many young Black girls saw Gauff win and said, “OK, I’m next.”


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s” and the animated show Star Stories with Toure which you can find at He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

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