Coming into her own at 20, Coco Gauff is blazing a new path

As Coco Gauff continues to compete in international tournaments, the tennis star looked back at her accomplishments as part of this year’s Time100.

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Coco Gauff on the cover of Time 100. (Photo courtsey of Time magazine)

This week, Coco Gauff dominated the Mutua Madrid Open as she moved on to the third round, beating the Netherlands’ Arantxa Rus 6-0 in both sets — the first “double bagel” of her career to date. After becoming the youngest person since Serena Williams’ 1999 win to score a Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open, Gauff was not only flagged as the next major tennis phenom but also caught the attention and hearts of social media users and celebs worldwide. However, as she recently told Time magazine, she is just getting started. 

“I always knew I wanted to try to win multiple Grand Slams,” said Gauff, who is honored as one of the magazine’s Time100 class of 2024. “Sometimes people get unmotivated after winning one. That hasn’t been a personal challenge for me.”

Following her historic win, Gauff received praise and congratulations from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Magic Johnson, Spike Lee and Michelle Obama, who invited the 2023 Grand Slam champion into her home and reminded her that “When the demands of fame overwhelm you, it’s OK to say no.” 

Though she’s only 20 years old, Gauff is no stranger to setting boundaries in an effort to protect her mental health. During the 2020 U.S. Open, the budding tennis star lost in the first round, and in the second round at the French Open a few weeks later. 

“I was trying to live up to what other people wanted for me. That got in my head a little bit,” Gauff shared, explaining how that mindset continued to impact her through 2022 when she reached her first major championship final. “It felt like life or death. It felt hard to breathe…I lost that match before I stepped on the court.”

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Throughout her life, Gauff has beaten the odds both on and off the court. From skipping the crawling stage and walking at 9 months to beating Venus Williams at just 15 years old, Gauff’s mindset has helped her manage the growing expectations surrounding her career. 

“I put my identity too much into tennis,” she told Time, reflecting on how much losses on the court used to impact her mental health. “It is much easier to play for yourself than it is for other people. I realized it’s impossible to satisfy everyone.”

Now, Gauff’s success is taking her to the Paris Olympics, where she will compete for the United States. Getting “goosebumps [at the idea of] representing [her] country,” she admits that, like Serena Williams, she wants “​​to win a gold so bad.” However, the tennis star is giving herself grace as she climbs the ranks of tennis. 

“If I could win every match, I would,” she said. “But I can’t. People don’t go to work and have a good day every day. We just have to all give each other grace.”

Building a name for herself both on and off the court, Gauff has acquired a number of brand deals, recognition, and features in publications such as Vogue. Beyond her stardom, the Grand Slam champion is like any other young adult today: enjoying time with her boyfriend, watching TikToks and anime, and speaking out on sociopolitical issues. 

“The best part about Coco Gauff is just the ability to do both on-court and off-court life,” she said in a video when asked to describe herself. “On court being pretty energetic and intense and then off-court not mellow, but like giggly. I feel like I have two different personalities. I definitely look like I don’t smile a lot when I’m on the court, but it’s quite the opposite off the court.” 

She added, “Tennis is what I do, but it’s not who I am. …  I would like my legacy to be defined as someone who was obviously a great tennis player but also someone who put just as much effort and work into [what she does off-court].”