Coco Gauff marks prestigious accolade by advancing to DDF Tennis quarter-finals

American third seed defeated Karolina Pliskova in third round on same day she was named among Time Magazine's Women of the Year for 2024

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Coco Gauff may still be a teenager but the impact she is making both on and off the tennis court is quickly turning her into a cultural icon.

Time Magazine seems to think so, too, and named the 19-year-old American as one of their 12 Women of the Year for 2024.

Among the company Gauff has on this prestigious annual list includes Barbie movie director Greta Gerwig, Chanel CEO Leena Nair, and Yael Admi and Reem Hajajreh – two Israeli and Palestinian women whose organisations formed an alliance to strengthen calls for peace amid the continuing war in Gaza.

“I feel very honoured. I don't think I was expecting that, to be honest,” Gauff said after her third-round victory over Karolina Pliskova at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday.

“It's really cool, I'm excited. The event is one of the things that my tennis schedule allows me to go to, so I'm really excited to attend and be among some incredible women, just hear their stories from their backgrounds, and maybe try to apply it to my own life.”

Gauff has never been afraid to stand up for what she believes in. It's a quality that runs deep in her family; her grandmother Yvonne Lee Odom was the first black student at her high school in 1961, while her parents have always encouraged their daughter to make her voice heard on important cultural issues, which she has done to great effect.

Tennis, of course, is the platform upon which Gauff is able to amplify her voice, and her platform continues to expand as her standing in the game grows. Long seen as a future star, ever since beating one of her heroes, Venus Williams, at Wimbledon when she was 15, Gauff is now established among the elite as a Grand Slam champion and the world No 3.

“I like to say I'm more than a tennis player,” Gauff said. “Especially in this day and age, I will say growing up in tennis, coming from a lineage like Billie Jean King, Venus Williams, Althea Gibson, I feel like this sport is very popular in advocating for equality and justice. I feel comfortable doing that.”

Gauff may be more than a tennis player, but on Wednesday it was all about the day job, and it looked like the third seed was set for an early flight home when she dropped the first set to former world No 1 Pliskova.

The American regrouped admirably, overcoming initial serving problems and a prolonged row with the umpire to claim a 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory in one hour and 53 minutes.

After a surprise defeat in the Qatar Open second round last week, it was an impressive win against the in-form Pliskova, who had won her last 11 matches, not including the walkover in the Doha semi-finals.

“It felt like a good win because in Doha, I didn't play well. I feel like here I haven't been playing the best,” Gauff said. “Especially an opponent like her. She's been playing well since the start of the year, coming back from injury.

“Even though her ranking is probably not where it should be considering the calibre of player she is, it definitely felt like a top win for me. Hopefully, I can continue to use that to build my confidence going into the rest of this week.”

Gauff was in control at 4-2 up in the second set when she got involved in a lengthy exchange with umpire Pierre Bacchi over a successful Hawk-Eye call on a serve. Bacchi had deemed that Pliskova, who hit her return into the net, had been hindered by the incorrect call by the line judge and ordered Gauff to replay the point. Gauff, however, argued the call came too late and felt she should have been awarded the point.

After unsuccessfully pleading her case, Gauff admitted defeat in her argument and quickly refocused to win the game. While she was broken in a later game, the third seed claimed another break of her own to close out the set and level the match.

US Open champion Coco Gauff advocates peace in Gaza

US Open champion Coco Gauff advocates peace in Gaza

As it transpired, Gauff was right in her protest with Bacchi. “I don't usually advocate that hard for things unless I'm 100 per cent sure. I don't want to get the reputation with the refs,” she said. “When I walked away, I was like, OK, don't let one point turn into a three- or four-point ordeal. I definitely was able to reset after that.”

The deciding set was far less dramatic, a single break of serve falling in Gauff's favour in the eighth game, and after fending off two break points, she sealed the match at the second attempt.

The victory ensures Gauff, who will face Anna Kalinskaya in the quarter-finals after the Russian's victory over 2022 champion Jelena Ostapenko, stays on a semi-final collision course with world No 1 Iga Swiatek. The top seed eliminated the only other former champion in the draw, Elina Svitolina, 6-1, 6-4.

Updated: February 21, 2024, 5:30 PM