Coco Gauff on adulthood, Gaza, advocating for change and dreams of greatness

US Open champion speaks to The National at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

US Open champion Coco Gauff advocates peace in Gaza

US Open champion Coco Gauff advocates peace in Gaza
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As she gets ready to bid her teen years farewell, Coco Gauff has joked about her least favourite part of ‘adulting’ – as the kids are calling it these days – so far.

“I've always been aware that I had to pay taxes even when I was a minor but I guess now I’m more aware of how much money is going to the government and it's a lot, so I would say that part, being aware of it, is something I'm not enjoying,” Gauff says with a laugh as she sat down with The National at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday.

“I've been paying taxes since I’ve been making money. But just now, when I turned 19, my dad has made me more aware of how much I'm paying and how everything works with that world. I wish I could go back to not knowing how much is going away.”

Gauff, who turns 20 next month, has always been mature beyond her years and admits she feels like she’s been an adult since she was 15, breaking out on tour with a headline-grabbing run to the Wimbledon second week as a qualifier.

The reigning US Open champion has never shied away from speaking up about social issues, drawing inspiration from her grandmother Yvonne Lee Odom, who back in 1961, was chosen to integrate Seacrest High School in Delray Beach.

At 15, Gauff was already using her social media platform to educate people during Black History Month. At 16, she gave a stirring speech at a Black Lives Matter rally. From a young age, her parents, Corey and Candi, have encouraged her to believe she could “change the world with her racquet” and Gauff has taken that advice to heart.

Praying for peace in the region

Competing in the Middle East this month, Gauff said she is praying for peace in the region.

“I feel like it would be ignorant to say I’m not aware, I’m very aware of everything that's going on in Gaza,” said the world No 3. “For me, I always say I pray for peace in the region. And I really don't like what's going on. For me, it's sometimes troubling to live the life I live, in knowing that so many kids and innocent people are dying on both ends, but especially in what's going on in Gaza and the occupation that’s happening…

I think it's important for us as privileged civilians to do our research and just continuing to demand our leaders to make change and I will never not advocate for that
Coco Gauff

“In my position, I know there's not much I can do other than raise awareness and donate. So that's what I encourage everyone to do and just pray for peace and demand peace and demand that this stops happening.”

Gauff believes information is easily accessible online and in the news and says it’s important to educate oneself on such matters.

“I feel like it's very ignorant to say you're not aware because it is everywhere, you see it on the news and I think it's important for us as privileged civilians to do our research and just continuing to demand our leaders to make change and I will never not advocate for that,” she added.

“And I do advocate for peace and I advocate for the thousands, I think it's almost like I said millions at this point, of kids and innocent people being killed for a conflict that I feel like shouldn't be happening.”

No limit to what can be achieved

In tennis, Gauff’s dreams have always been big and she has long stated her goal of trying to become the greatest of all time. She does not believe in placing unnecessary limitations on herself, and shared her thoughts on what the term ‘greatness’ currently means to her.

“I think for me greatness is… I think multiple people can be great,” she says.

“Obviously, there's only going to be one greatest of all time and I just feel like no matter what I do, I don't think anything I’ll do will compare to what Serena [Williams] did for the sport and the game and with the amount of times she won.

“But I definitely would like to be, when I retire, people, when they think of the best players, I'd like to be in that conversation. So hopefully I can do better and continue to do better.

“It's a big goal. It's a lot to try to do. But again, I feel like if I put a ceiling on something, then I'll stop at that ceiling or even worse, stop under it.

“So I just want to make things as limitless as possible. And at the end, when I put my racquets up, I can say I did everything I could to do all the things I wanted to.”

Gauff’s parents are a familiar presence on tour, her father Corey serving as her coach throughout her career, and her mother Candi accompanying her at several tournaments each season. But the Gauffs are far from your stereotypical tennis family, and buck the trend of controlling parents so often witnessed in professional tennis, instead choosing to empower their daughter and allowing her to make her own decisions.

In the last couple of seasons, Gauff’s father has brought in additional help to coach her. After stints with Diego Moyano and Pere Riba, Gauff is now working with Brad Gilbert, who together with Riba helped guide her to a maiden Grand Slam title in New York last summer.

Taking charge of her career

Gauff says she has taken on more off-court responsibilities from mid-2023 and is enjoying the process of learning more about the financial side of her job.

She acknowledges her father’s hands-off approach, when needed, is a rare occurrence in tennis and is grateful for it.

“I feel like for me there was never a plan on when he would take a step back. Like you said, he's always involved and he's helping me with every moment, making sure I have the right people in the team and he still gives me advice on the court and everything. But for him, he always said like, ‘If I could help her, get to her first one [major], that would be my time to step back’,” she explained.

“So with US Open, he was doing everything to help, with bringing Brad [Gilbert] on the team and Pere [Riba], find people that will help me achieve that goal. It's just sometimes hearing it from a different person just makes it sit more and hearing it in a different way – because I know all the things I need to improve in my game. So it's just about how can I improve that?

“In tennis, I do know how rare it is. And I think the difference between a lot of the dads on tour and [my dad] is that it was never his dream, it was always my dream.

“I was always the motivation behind it and me being his child, he was just like, ‘How can I help her accomplish her dreams?’ And if my dream was to not play tennis at all, or be in a different sport or even anything different I think he would still support me just as much.

“He’s said, ‘I never thought in a million years my daughter would play tennis’ because to be honest, in the black community, it's not a major sport, and it's super expensive. So I'm really grateful that my dad found a way to put me on this stage and hopefully I can always make him proud.”

Tennis has opened so many doors for Gauff and her star power transcends the sport. Asked to name some of the standout moments she has experienced because of her status as a tennis player, Gauff said: “Definitely meeting First Lady Michelle and President Obama was something that definitely would never happen if it wasn't for tennis. And also I got to speak on the phone with President Biden, so that was really cool.

“So having these conversations with people so high ranked in the world, and obviously, in more of a tennis way, definitely working with Andy Roddick [on her serve during the offseason] is up there on the list, and playing doubles with Venus Williams, I would say that one, probably, if anything, maybe tops the list.

“Because I always had the dream of playing them [the Williams sisters] and I never would have in a million years thought I would be able to play with Venus on the same court and the fact that I can even say that is still crazy, and I would definitely like to do it maybe one more time, that was pretty cool.”

Gauff is seeded No 3 in Dubai this week and opens her campaign on Tuesday against lucky loser Elisabetta Cocciaretto.

Updated: February 23, 2024, 5:24 AM