Five young South Florida women are shaking up sports locally and nationally—even toppling the giants in their fields.
2019 was the year of the woman.
With the U.S. women’s national soccer team winning its fourth World Cup and vehemently fighting for equal pay, young girls everywhere are looking up to their (s)heroes. Some may recognize South Florida as a football hub, but Palm Beach County is home to women athletes who are paving the way for young players across the world. Each day this week, Boca mag is profiling one of those athletes who calls South Florida home—and this will not be the last time you see their names on big screens.
Cori “Coco” Gauff
Many athletes grow up watching their favorite players on TV, but not many get to play against them. That rare and dreamed-about moment became a reality for 15-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff this past July, when she competed against lifelong hero and tennis phenom Venus Williams.
“I didn’t really feel like I was playing Venus until after the match,” Gauff says. “During the match, I knew I could win the match—I just didn’t realize how big of a moment it was when I played her.”
Gauff didn’t know it yet, but her name would dominate the headlines for the remainder of Wimbledon. Following her straight-set win against Williams, the Delray Beach native advanced to the second round, then third, then fourth. On the biggest stage in the world, Gauff didn’t falter.
“Going on the court, I was just like, it’s another opponent and I want to win and I’m going to do everything that it takes to win,” Gauff told a crowd of fans during the city of Delray Beach’s “welcome back” party in July.
But the Cinderella run at Wimbledon was no surprise to those who knew her name before. Gauff was ranked No. 1 in the ITF Junior Circuit and won the 2016 Orange Bowl Tournament at age 12. She was the youngest-ever finalist at age 13 in the 2017 junior U.S. Open, and won the junior French Open in 2018. Her coach and father, Corey Gauff, instilled in her the fearlessness spectators see on the court.
“He always told me that anything is possible,” Gauff says of her father. “He’s a reason that I have this much belief in myself, because he started the belief in me way before I believed in myself.”
Now, Gauff has great confidence, the kind that helped her takedown Williams 6-4, 6-4. Before important matches, she sometimes envisions herself back home at the Pompey Park Tennis Courts in Delray Beach.
“I tell myself that anything is possible and I just want to win, and being nervous before the match won’t help me win,” Gauff says. “Sometimes before my matches, I try to imagine that I’m playing on the courts here at Pompey just so [I don’t have] stage fright.”
Gauff was calm, cool and collected as she outplayed Williams, who has seven Grand Slam titles in her repertoire. Following her victory against Williams, Gauff dropped her racket and put her hands on her face, overcome with the realization of what she had just managed to do.
“I was shocked for at least a day and a half, because it’s like, ‘I just beat Venus Williams, the person I’ve been watching since I picked up a racket,’” Gauff remembers.
Gauff would go on to beat Magdalena Rybarikova and Polona Hercog. Though Gauff fell in the fourth round to tournament winner Simona Halep, she climbed 171 spots in the WTA rankings, and as of August was the 142nd ranked player in the world. Then she was chosen to play as a wild card in the U.S. Open, where she fell in the third round to reigning champ Naomi Osaka.
Like the former athletes Gauff used to watch on her television, there are now young girls and boys across America wanting to be Coco Gauff. Her advice?
“Work hard and dream big—and sometimes you listen to your parents,” she laughs. “I know it’s hard and I know they sometimes seem annoying, but they really want what’s best for you.”