- Tennis legend Serena Williams will retire after the 2022 US Open.
- American prodigy Coco Gauff paid a beautiful tribute to her idol ahead of the Grand Slam.
- The 18-year-old said Williams’ example taught her “not to settle for less.”
Serena Williams has been an invaluable influence on rising tennis stars.
Once upon a time, a young hopeful named Coco Gauff was no exception.
The American prodigy, who reached the French Open singles final this June, grew up idolizing Williams – just like virtually every other up-and-coming talent in the sport. But as a young black girl emerging on Florida’s elite tennis scene, Gauff was able to identify with Williams in a way few others can.
Ahead of the 2022 US Open – where Gauff hopes to win her first major title and Williams will most likely play against her last – the 18-year-old praised the 23-time Grand Slam champion for breaking through and going to Legend “in a sport that is predominantly white.”
“That meant a lot to me as a little girl – and still does now -” said Gauff during the US Open media day. “Especially when I was growing up, before I was born, there weren’t many. Before Serena came along, there wasn’t a sporting icon that looked like me.
“Growing up, I never thought I was different because the world No. 1 was someone who looked like me,” she added. “I think that’s the biggest thing I can take away from what I learned from Serena.”
Gauff first became interested in tennis at the age of four when she watched Williams defeat Dinara Safina for the 2009 Australian Open title.
She has often described how she idolized Serena and Venus – a seven-time Grand Slam winner – throughout their childhood. Fittingly, Gauff catapulted himself to tennis superstardom by defeating the older Williams sister at Wimbledon in 2019 when he was just 15 years old.
By this point, she was already on the Williams family’s radar. But now that she’s one of the biggest names in esports, Gauff has had “a few conversations” with Serena and Venus. And just like when he was a child, Gauff admires the GOAT from afar.
“It’s just the way she treats herself — she never sits down,” Gauff said. “I love that she always stands up. Sometimes as a woman, a black woman in the world, you settle for less. I feel like Serena taught me that she never settled for less because she was watching her. I can’t remember a moment in her career or life when she settled for less.
“I think I bought that from her,” she added. “As a person, I’m growing up and I’m learning how to deal with the media and tennis and everything now. I am trying to learn not to settle for less.”