Photo : Peter Power/Tennis Canada
There is an entire generation of tennis fans that cannot remember the sport without Serena Williams.
That includes an entire generation of young players. One of the leaders of that group is Williams’ fellow American, Coco Gauff.
When Gauff was born in March 2004, Williams had been a professional tennis player for almost nine years, had already won six Grand Slam singles titles, completed the career Grand Slam, and had spent 57 weeks at No. 1 in the world.
“She’s just been playing for ever, my whole life,” Gauff reflected after her first-round win at the National Bank Open in Toronto on Tuesday, where both she and the 23-time Grand Slam champion are competing.
Earlier in the day, the news broke that Williams will be transitioning away from the sport, bringing an end to what is probably the greatest career a tennis player has ever had.
“The legacy that she’s left throughout her tennis career is something that I don’t think any other player can probably touch,” said Gauff of Williams. “I think that the legacy that she’ll continue to leave throughout her life is something that can inspire many more generations.”
As a young American player, the 18-year-old has already been called by “the next Serena” by pundits. While Gauff is not a huge fan of that tag, she acknowledged that Williams has had an influence on her life and career.
I’ve learned a lot from them [Serena and sister Venus]. People always tell me that you’re going to be next whatever blah blah blah and Serena has been considered the GOAT [Greatest of All Time] for at least the second half of her career and she never succumbed to that pressure,” Gauff said. “I think she overcame it and I think that’s something I take from her and try to learn from it. Not that I’m at her level and experiencing the same pressure she is, but in the moment I try to emulate that.”
But the Williams’ influence on Gauff is more than purely about what happens on the court.
“For me, I grew up watching her. That’s the reason why I play tennis and tennis being a predominantly white sport it definitely helped a lot because I saw somebody who looked like me dominating the game and it made me believe I could dominate too.”
As a result, Gauff believes that what makes Serena the greatest player of all time is not just Williams’ trophy collection.
“What makes her the GOAT is her personality and all that she’s done off the court to fight for equality, to fight for young players like me and continue to lead in the way that she does and I think that’s what we really should be focused on,” explained Gauff. “That’s just Serena. I don’t think there will be anyone who can do what she did, with all the adversity that she had to face, I don’t think there will be another player that will do that.”
Sports fans love GOAT debates. But for Gauff, it’s simple. There is no debate.
“She’s the GOAT. And undisputed too. In my opinion. But I don’t think that’s an opinion, it’s a fact.
Serena for me is the GOAT. The GOAT of all GOATs.
There will never be another Serena.”