Cori Gauff, a champion in the making

 - Alix Ramsay

The youngest qualifier ever at Wimbledon and RG18 girls'champion defeated Venus Williams.

Cori Gauff crying out of joy after defeating Venus Williams at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

She looks like Venus Williams, she plays a bit like Venus Williams and, on the opening day the The Championships at Wimbledon, she was better than Venus Williams.

Cori Gauff, the 15-year-old qualifier from Georgia by way of Florida, beat Venus 6-4, 6-4 in 79 minutes of fearless – and startlingly calm – power and authority. She played Venus at her own game and she won. In such moments are legends made.

To be fair, Gauff was the story of the week last week when she became the youngest qualifier in the Open Era. Well done, you, we all thought. At the time, she said that her dream draw would be one of the Williams sisters.

And, sure enough, the very next day, her name was pulled out of the hat and placed next to the five-time champion. That will be a nice afternoon for her, we all thought. And then she won. Ah, we all thought, this is history in the making.

"No matter who I play against, I want to win"

One break point presented itself in the first set. Gauff pounced on it. First blood to the teenager. Surely she could not keep this up. Surely she would realise where she was, who she was playing and what she was about to do. Surely the occasion would get to her. Not a bit of it. Gauff is not made that way.

“On the court, I was not thinking about Venus,” she said. “I was just playing my game. No matter who I play against, I want to win. So that's what I was just thinking about the whole time. I wasn't really thinking about who I was facing on the other side of the net.”

Handshake between Venus Williams and Cori Gauff at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

That is far easier said than done but when she moved to within two points of the match only for Venus to come back at her, she still stayed calm. Three match points came and went and still there was no sign of panic from the young pretender.

When the fourth was converted, she sank to her knees and sobbed. At last she looked like the teenager she really was. It is only when she has victory in sight that she acts like a seasoned campaigner.

Limitless girl

“My goal is to win the tournament,” she said. “No matter who I play, I want to win. Throughout those four match points against Venus, I knew it was going to be mine, no matter what. I wasn't surprised that I won. I think people limit themselves too much. I like to shoot really high. We’re all going to die one day, and I want to make the most of it all.”

As for the crying business, that took her by surprise. Shedding tears is not unusual for Gauff, but not when she is playing – or winning – a tennis match.

Cori Gauff crying in front of the score board after defeating Venus Williams at Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“Oh, actually the movie 'End Game' when Ironman died, I was crying,” she said, trawling through the memory banks to remember the last time she blubbed. “Every time I think of it, I get teary-eyed because I really liked Ironman.”

Venus, Serena… and Roger

Spoken like a true 15-year-old. The emotion of the moment stayed with her for a while. She tried to tell Venus how much she looked up to her, how she had been inspired by her but the exchange at the net went by in a blur. Venus, who at the age of 39 is long past bothering with talking much to the press, did pause to heap praise on her young conqueror.

“I think the sky's the limit [for her], it really is,” Venus said. “She did everything well today. She put the ball in the court, which was much better than I did. She served well, moved well. It was a great match for her.

“She played so well. Even all the shank balls went in. I actually didn't play well. It was a contrast of both sides.”

Venus and Serena are not the only inspirations for Gauff – she is rather taken with the career of one Roger Federer. Well, you might as well aim for the very top and with those three as your guides, you won’t go far wrong.

Roger Federer definitely inspired me,” Gauff said. “When I lost first round Australian Open juniors, I talked to him. Gave me kind of a pep talk. The next tournament was Roland-Garros juniors, and I ended up winning it, so I guess it helped.”


Cori Gauff falling on the ground as she realizes she has juste defeated Venus Williams Wimbledon 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

I want to be the greatest

That was last year when she was 14, when she was still a proper junior (she also won a place in the play-offs for a wild card into the Roland Garros Junior wild card Series the year before). Back then, she was just a kid. On paper, she is still a kid now. But as of Monday night, she was superstar in the making. And she knows it, too. She has planned for it. She knows how to do it.

“I said this before: I want to be the greatest,” she said boldly. “My dad told me that I could do this when I was eight. Obviously you never believe it. I'm still, like, not 100 per cent confident. But, like, you have to just say things. You never know what happens.

“If I went into this match saying, ‘let’s see how many games I can get against her’, then I most definitely would not have won. My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That's what happened.”

Spoken like a champion in the making.