Delray Beach's Coco Gauff celebrates women's breakthroughs in sports, plans to launch foundation
The world’s greatest tennis players will compete at the 2023 Miami Open this week. And it isn’t the only thing fans are cheering on.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is celebrating five decades of breakthroughs in women’s sports, from tour representation to pay disparities. Just ask the sixth-ranked player in the world: Delray Beach native Coco Gauff.
But the 19-year-old said there are even more barriers to be broken.
"I think the fanbase of the sport, you know, it’s pretty big but I think we can go even bigger," Gauff told WLRN. "If I can choose something to improve on, it would be that."
Gauff paid tribute to Hall of Famer Billie Jean King and 'the original nine,' referring to the trail-blazing group of players who in 1970 created the Virginia Slims Circuit that preceded the WTA.
"I think it's almost inevitable that the world of women's sports ends up here and probably leads even more," she added, referring to their efforts.
Gauff, whose parents are former collegiate athletes from Delray Beach, has been an elite tennis player since the age of eight. She won her first pro match at the age of 14 and put the world of sport on notice when she defeated future Hall of Famer Venus Williams in the opening round of 2019 Wimbledon.
Her family in Delray Beach still hold several watch parties during Gauff's major tournament appearances, such as the 2022 French Open.
She will play 83rd-ranked Rebecca Marino in the women's singles competition at the Miami Open, on Thursday, at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. The event is a joint tournament between the WTA and the men’s Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).
Gauff, who also ranks third in doubles, said the sport is more accessible than ever — especially in the age of social media, where athletes own podcasts, launch media companies and share the inner-workings of their professions.
That’s why she plans to continue using her work ethic and success to empower women and girls in tennis because having a platform "allows more athletes the access to take their take on social issues and be more involved in their communities, in the communities around the world."
Gauff said she is in the process of starting a foundation to help aspiring tennis athletes navigate the sport she loves.
"I noticed how much privilege I have in my situation," she said. "I kinda wanna use that to help other people. One day I’ll be very happy that maybe some kid I helped can say that they started because of something I did or my foundation did for them."
But despite the tremendous amount of support for her around the world, she doesn't want fans to aspire to be the next Coco.
"I don't want them to be the next me or anyone," Gauff said. "I think my message has always been be the best version of yourself."
And, as for mentoring? That's out of the question, at least for now.
"I don't know if I see myself as a mentor. I think because I still need a lot of mentoring for myself right now," said Gauff, as she laughs through the rest of her response. "So, maybe in the future I'll be wise enough to be someone's mentor.