Coco Gauff’s ascension to the top of the women’s tennis world took some giant steps this week, and not only via yesterday afternoon’s thrilling comeback victory against a higher-seeded opponent. ABC News’ reporting of yesterday’s performance is impressive enough:
Gauff, 19, won her first Grand Slam title, after taking the U.S. Open women’s singles title in three sets against Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus.
Gauff, the No. 6 seed, was the first American teenager to compete in the U.S. Open women’s final since then-19-year-old Serena Williams faced off against her older sister, Venus Williams, in 2001.
With the win, the Florida phenom is the 10th teen to win the U.S. Open women’s singles championship — and the youngest American to claim the title since Serena Williams won in 1999 at the age of 17.
An accomplishment, to be sure, With the win, Gauff will ascend to #3 in the world and is immediately positioned for a long-term rivalry with Sabalenka, the relative graybeard at 25, who despite the loss will emerge as #1 when the revised WTA rankings are released later this week.
But it was how and what Gauff did in primetime on Thursday night that perhaps will leave a more immediate imprenture on the sport and pop culture:
Gauff reached the championship after beating Karolina Muchova, of the Czech Republic, in two sets on Thursday. The match was delayed for nearly an hour after four spectators protested against climate change. Two of the protesters were arrested.
And with the world paying attention for reasons well beyond sports, Gauff was eloquent and classy in a way beyond her years, as CNN’s Jacob Lev and George Ramsay reported:
“Throughout history, moments like this are definitely defining moments,” Gauff later told reporters. “I believe in climate change. I don’t really know exactly what they were protesting. I know it was about the environment. I 100% believe in that.
“I think there are things we can do better. I know the tournaments are doing things to do better for the environment. Would I prefer it not happening in my match? 100%, yeah. I’m not gonna sit here and lie. But it is what it is.”
And in addition to millions of tennis fans around the globe who became her adorers with her impressive tennis, she gained one additional fan in the man who glued his feet to the Arthur Ashe Stadium concrete, as THE NEW YORK POST’s Deirdre Bardolf reported:
The climate protester who interrupted the U.S. Open last week by gluing his bare feet to the stadium floor interpreted the response from one of the tournament’s star players as “support,” and defended his bizarre actions as a last resort.
“The climate change movement has tried everything from writing and lobbying for legislation to demonstrating and blockading banks, but none of that has been as effective as communicating directly to the public by going to public institutions like museums and sporting arenas,” Sayak Mukhopadhyay told The Post.
Mukhopadhyay says he wishes her a long and successful career but “she knows the same thing that we know: if we don’t take drastic action soon, tennis will not be playable by the time she retires.”
Time will tell if his somewhat extreme amd dystopian prediction comes true. But given the fact that if she follows the Williams’ leads she will playing well into the 2040s (frankly, a fate I can wistfully dream of at this point), there will be an awfully long runway ahead to see if indeed it does.
And having conquered these kinds of obstacles already, it’s evident that Coco Gauff will be as prominent a topic of conversation in the coming years as climate change itself.