There were dozens of great tennis matches this year, but only one can lay claim to creating a brand new superstar.
They made 2019 (VI): The day Coco Gauff beat Venus Williams
EPISODE 6/10. In 10 days, 10 players and 10 stories, here are the tales of a fascinating year.
The match between the two Americans pitted five-time champion Williams, at 39 the oldest player in the women’s draw, against Gauff, at 15 the youngest Wimbledon qualifier in the Open era.
"First time I ever cried after winning"
Although Gauff had only played her first event on the women’s WTA Tour a few months earlier, the 313th-ranked teenager played with a maturity well beyond her years against one of her idols, dispatching Williams 6-4, 6-4 in 79 breathtaking minutes on No. 1 Court.
Gauff, who was given a wildcard into qualifying and who reached her first ever Grand Slam main draw without losing a set, broke down in tears after winning.
“This is the first time I ever cried after winning a match,” Gauff told the BBC. “I never thought this would happen. I don’t know how to explain it. I’m literally living my dream. Not many people get to say that.”
The sky is the limit
When asked about Gauff, Williams said: "I think the sky's the limit, it really is.”
"She did everything well today,” added Williams, who had already won four of her seven Grand Slam singles titles by the time Gauff was born.
“She put the ball in the court, which was much better than I did. She served well, moved well. It was a great match for her."
Gauff struck 18 winners, including four aces, compared with 16 winners, including two aces, for Williams. Gauff made just eight unforced errors, 18 fewer than her opponent. She also played better on the big points, converting all three of her break points, while Williams was successful on just one of three break points.
“I definitely had to tell myself to stay calm during the match,” said Gauff, a child prodigy who won the Roland-Garros girls’ title last year. “I never played on a court that’s so big. I had to remind myself that the lines are the same size as any other court. When we shook hands she told me ‘Congratulations’ and to keep going and good luck. I said ‘Thank you for everything you’ve done’ – I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.”
Gauff’s mesmerising performance was lauded by stars including Samuel L. Jackson on social media and by the world’s media, including the New York Times, which called her victory over Williams a “changing-of-the-guard match.”
Gauff, a former junior world No. 1, followed up with a second-round victory against 2017 semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia. She staged a sensational comeback win against Polona Hercog of Slovenia in a thrilling third-round match, before eventually succumbing to Simona Halep, the Romanian who went on to win the title.
"It's been crazy“
By the time her week in the spotlight was over, Gauff’s engaging personality, combined with her never-say-die attitude, had turned her into a global superstar.
Having made the cover of Teen Vogue in August, Gauff showed she was no flash in the pan at the US Open in September, where she was only stopped by Naomi Osaka, the defending champion from Japan, in the third round.
In October, Gauff capped one of the most remarkable maiden seasons on the women’s Tour with her first tournament title in Linz, Austria. Gauff’s defeat of former Roland-Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia made her the youngest WTA champion in 15 years.
"It's been crazy," Gauff told CNN Sport a few hours after her victory, when asked how she would sum up her first year on the women’s Tour.
No teenager since 2004...
Having ended 2018 just inside the top 700, her victory in Linz catapulted Gauff into the top 70. This means she will no longer have to rely on wildcards to get into any of the sport’s four major tournaments.
Because of the so-called Age Eligibility Rule on the women’s Tour, which was introduced in the mid-1990s to prevent young women from burnout, Gauff won’t be allowed to play a full schedule until her 18th birthday.
No teenager has won a slam in the women’s game since Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova took the 2004 US Open title.
Although it is still early days for Gauff, don’t bet against the young American winning a major in the next couple of years.