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Monday, April 06, 2020

A Venus clone, 15-year old Cori Gauff takes on the icon

At around 11pm on Wednesday, in London, Cori Gauff took a science test remotely for her school in Florida. Some 12 hours later, she watched Greet Minnen strike a forehand long to give her a spot in the main draw of Wimbledon, and a match against idol Venus Williams.

Written by Shahid Judge | Published: July 1, 2019 10:03:01 am
Cori Gauff of the U.S. during a practice session. (Source: Reuters)

Monday’s first-round clash is the first time Gauff is coming up against either of the Williams’ sisters, yet the match-up itself has brought about an array of intriguing comparisons with them – both on and off court.

The match-up

The elder of the Williams’ sisters is 23 years, eight months and 24 days older than her opponent. The day Gauff was born, March 13, 2004, Williams was already a holder of two Wimbledon and two US Open titles. She had also risen to the world No.1 rank by then.

Currently though, Venus, ranked 44, is placed 257 places ahead of Gauff – who was granted a wild card to enter the qualifiers – but this is a tie the teenager was waiting for. After losing in the first round of the Miami Open – she would have met Venus in the second round – Gauff claimed: “I was more disappointed that I lost the round before I got to play Venus than that I lost in general.” At her home in Florida, Gauff has a poster of Serena Williams and credits her love for tennis came from the Williams pair. “They’re the reason I picked up a racquet,” she said after her third qualifying match.

The playing styles

India’s Ankita Raina played and lost 6-4, 6-4 to Gauff in the first round of qualifying at the French Open last month. Raina describes Gauff’s game: “She has a big game. Serves big and for the receiver, the contact point is higher than normal. She’s consistent and also aggressive. So she has an overall game to make it big.” That’s quite similar to the way Venus herself plays. And Raina isn’t the only one to have noticed the similarities.

“It’s going to be a big moment for Venus as well,” said Serena. “She’s playing against a player that actually reminds me of Venus, her body and everything.”

The heritage

Both players have had their father standing in as coach during their formative years — in Gauff’s case, her father is still the ‘head coach.’ Born in Atlanta, Gauff’s father was a Division 1 basketball player and her mother was once a gymnast before becoming a track athlete in college. Unlike the Williams though, Gauff’s father Corey wanted his daughter to play the sport he played, basketball. Only, the youngster chose tennis.

“I like tennis because you can only blame yourself and you can only control yourself,” she said in an interview. “Sometimes when I was on the basketball court I’d be trying to control other people – like, c’mon man, bring the ball up. I like the individual aspect – I like doubles too, but just one person on my team is enough.” Gauff trains at the Mouratoglou Academy in France, just like Serena.

Gauff’s haul

At 15 years and 122 days, she’s the youngest qualifier to make it to the main draw of Wimbledon. En route, she became the youngest since Martina Hingis (in 1995) to win a match against a top 100 opponent when she beat world No.94 Aliona Bolsova at Roehampton. She was also the youngest finalist at the junior girls US Open final in 2017 — then 13. A year later, she’d win the junior French Open girls singles crown and the junior doubles title at Flushing Meadows.

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