How Coco Gauff became a bona fide tennis superstar at just 16 years old

  • Despite being 16 years old, Cori "Coco" Gauff has become a household name in the tennis world.
  • The American wunderkind has set several records as one of the youngest-ever stars to find success on the WTA circuit.
  • She's taken down the likes of Venus Williams and Naomi Osaka and advanced into the later rounds of multiple Grand Slam tournaments.
  • Check out 36 photos of Gauff's meteoric rise to tennis greatness below:
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Coco Gauff is already one of the most accomplished tennis players on the planet, and she's just 16 years old.

Gauff is currently the youngest star ranked in the world's top 100 as determined by the World Tennis Association.

Source: WTA

She catapulted to superstardom after defeating then-world No. 44 Venus Williams in straight sets at Wimbledon in 2019.

At 15 years and three months old, Gauff was the youngest player to qualify for the tournament's main draw in the history of the Open Era.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

But Gauff was preparing herself for tennis greatness well before her massive upset on the world's biggest stage.

She has an innate athletic ability, but that's not exactly a surprise; her dad, Corey, played college basketball at Georgia State, and her mom, Candi, ran track for Florida State.

Her height, long arms, and "weird wingspan" — according to her dad — certainly help as well.

Source: ESPN

Coco first became inspired to play tennis at four years old when she watched Serena Williams win the 2009 Australian Open.

Source: ESPN

And in 2012 — just two years after she picked up a racquet for the first time — Gauff won the "Little Mo" eight-and-under nationals slam.

Source: ESPN

Shortly thereafter, her family moved from Atlanta to Delray Beach, Florida, to improve her access to training and competitive opportunities.

Source: Tennis.com

And it paid off; two years later, Gauff became the youngest USTA Clay Court National 12-under winner at 10 years and three months old.

Source: ESPN

She'd long been voicing her desire to be "the greatest of all time," but the wunderkind's early success at the junior elite level gave the ambitious declaration more credence.

Source: ESPN

Around the same time, Gauff began training with Serena Williams' longtime coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who recognized her generational talent as soon as he saw it: "She's just different. It's something I have known since I met her."

Source: Tennis365

"When you meet people who are exceptional, you know it," Mouratoglou added. "I feel it straight away. Since that day, she's been surprising me all the time, even though I know she's so special."

Source: Tennis365

The young Gauff began competing on the ITF Junior Circuit as soon as she was eligible; she made her junior Grand Slam debut at the 2017 US Open — just four events into her junior career — and made it to the finals.

Source: US Open

Once again, she made history, becoming the competition's youngest-ever girls' singles finalist at 13 years old.

Source: US Open

In June of the following year, she won the junior-level French Open and, one month later, became the world's top-ranked juniors player and the youngest-ever to earn the No. 1 spot at 14 years and four months month.

Source: Roland-Garros, USTA

She made the jump to the ITF Women's Circuit in May of 2018 and, a few months later, she qualified for the US Open on a wild card draw.

Source: Tennis World USA, Tennis.com

She began 2019 by making it to the later rounds of a handful of tournaments before making her WTA main draw debut at the Miami Open.

Source: WTA

And then, after losing during qualifiers at the French Open, Coco had her Wimbledon breakthrough, beating then-world No. 92 Aliona Bolsova and then-No. 128 Greet Minnen for the main draw.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

After her career-defining victory over Venus Williams, Gauff advanced to the fourth round of the tournament thanks to wins against Magdaléna Rybáriková and then-No. 60 Polona Hercog.

Source: WTA

Her Cinderella run finally came to an end against Simona Halep, who would go on to win the tournament that year, but Coco still jumped to No. 141 in the WTA rankings after the sensational showing.

Source: WTA

Gauff earned a wild card at the US Open later that summer and breezed through her first two rounds before falling in straight sets to world-No. 1 Naomi Osaka.

Source: WTA

Osaka encouraged the 15 year old to join her for the post-match on-court interview, which is typically reserved for the winner, and went on to say "I think you guys are amazing, and Coco, I think you're amazing."

Source: ESPN

Gauff — who was 15 at the time — bounced back stunningly, breaking through win her first WTA title at the 2019 Linz Open to become the youngest player since 2004 to win a WTA singles title.

Source: Tennis.com, Forbes

Serena and Venus Williams, by contrast, were both 17 years old when they first broke through for their first WTA singles championship victories.

Source: Forbes

Coco started 2020 with a bang at the Australian Open, defeating the elder of the Williams sisters in the first round of a Grand Slam.

Source: BBC

Then, in the third round, she exacted revenge against then-No. 3 Naomi Osaka in straight sets.

Source: The New York Times

She lost to eventual champion Sofia Kenin in the next round, but her performance was enough to bump her up to No. 51 in the world, her highest WTA ranking at the time.

Source: WTA

The rest of 2020 hasn't been quite as kind to Gauff, who lost in the first round of the US Open and the second round of the French Open.

Still, she made plenty of strides — particularly off the court — in 2020, Gauff began using her platform to raise awareness of police brutality, and racial inequities in America after the death of George Floyd rocked the nation.

16-year-old tennis star Coco Gauff delivers a powerful message on police brutality in the wake of George Floyd's death

And, at just 16 years old, she made an impassioned speech at her local Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in Florida: "I think it's sad that I'm here protesting the same thing that [my grandmother] did 50-plus years ago."

Coco Gauff delivered an impassioned speech at her local Black Lives Matter peaceful protest: 'If you are choosing silence, you are choosing the side of the oppressor'

And that's reflected in her bank account as well; she signed a multi-year deal with New Balance — who outbid Nike for the then-14-year-old's services — back in 2018.

Source: CNN, Forbes

Likewise, Coco has long-term deals with Head racquets and Barilla.

Source: Forbes

According to Forbes, she was slated to make more than $1 million in endorsement money alone in 2019 in addition to the $900,000+ she's earned in prize money over her career.

Source: Forbes, WTA, CNBC

One thing is for certain: there's plenty more money, endorsements, and titles to come for this teenage superstar.

Now check out the story of Naomi Osaka's ascension to the top of the tennis world:

How Naomi Osaka rose to the top of the tennis world to become a 3-time Grand Slam champion and a leading voice for social justice

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