The Citi Open tennis tournament starts this weekend at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center in Washington, D.C. The big news is that Cori “Coco” Gauff will be there. As of Wednesday night, the tournament hadn’t announced whether Gauff would play or just practice at the center and participate in a fan event.
Gauff is the 15-year-old sensation who stole the show at Wimbledon in England this month. Gauff won three matches against older, higher-ranked opponents, including a match against Venus Williams.
Gauff finally lost a hard-fought match to Simona Halep. But that was no disgrace. Halep went on to win the Wimbledon title, beating Serena Williams.
Gauff is a big deal because she is so good at such a young age. It’s unusual for a teenager to be able to compete against the best in the world in most sports. Think of the Washington Nationals’ Juan Soto hitting .292 with 22 home runs last season as a 19-year-old. Or LeBron James being the best player for the Cleveland Cavaliers as a teenager during the 2003-04 season.
It is not that unusual, however, for teenagers to compete against the best in tennis, especially in women’s tennis. Twelve female players since 1968 have won their first Grand Slam tennis title as teenagers. The Grand Slams — Wimbledon and the Australian, French and United States opens — are the biggest and most important championships.
Some players on the list include the biggest names in the history of women’s tennis. Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam tournament — the 1999 U.S. Open — when she was 17. Williams has won 23 Grand Slam titles and may not be finished.
Steffi Graf was also 17 when she won her first Grand Slam — the 1987 French Open. Graf was still a teenager when she won all four Grand Slam tournaments the next year. She also won an Olympic gold medal in tennis at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. That’s a great year at any age.
Graf won 22 Grand Slam titles before she retired in 1999.
So will Coco Gauff be the next Serena Williams or Steffi Graf? Not every teenage sensation has become a legend such as Williams or Graf. Tracy Austin, for example, won the U.S. Open at age 16 in 1979. But she won only one more Grand Slam title as injuries sidelined her playing career.
Gauff looks like the real deal. She is a strong and athletic player with a variety of powerful shots. If she can stay healthy, and if she works hard, and if someone better doesn’t come along. . . .
That’s a lot of “ifs.” But one thing we know for certain, Gauff will be in Washington this weekend.