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Corey and Coco Gauff: A Perfect Match

Coco and Corey Gauff are an incredible daughter-father team who redefine what it means to be a champion. They love, support, and win together as a family.

Transcript

It was a warm September afternoon in Queens, New York, and the air was steamy and electric with anticipation. Stepping up to the service line in the enormous tennis stadium was a nineteen-year-old athlete who was drawing a lot of attention.

Her name was Cori Dionne Gauff, but most people called her Coco. Corey was her dad’s name too, and he was usually the one watching her with a laser focus from the stands. Only, as she got ready to hit her power serve, she saw that her dad was not in his usual seat. Where could he be?

There was no time to search through the crowd. There was just Coco, her racket, and everything that her father had given her to make it to this day.

But… would that be enough?

I’m Julia Kwamya. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

A fairy tale podcast about the real-life rebel women who inspire us. 

On this episode, Coco and Corey Gauff, an incredible father-daughter tennis team who love, support, and win… together.  

Coco was born on March 13, 2004 in Delray Beach, Florida, surrounded by loving parents and grandparents. 

Even when she was a baby, Coco was often on the MOVE. Athleticism ran in the family — her mom Candi was once a very impressive track and field star, and her dad Corey had played basketball in college. 

Corey remembers watching a tiny Coco, just three or four years old, running around the track with her older cousins. Coco’s legs were much smaller and she cried when she couldn’t catch the bigger kids. 

Man, Corey said to himself. This is gonna be interesting. She’s got some kind of determination.

The family moved to Atlanta, Georgia, when Coco was very young. As athletes themselves, her parents encouraged Coco to play a sport. So of course, she tried a lot of them! She ran track, played basketball, and did gymnastics. And though she loved them all, nothing felt like a perfect fit.

But then she tried…. tennis. Coco was fascinated by the game and all the concentration, strength, and spontaneity it required. She ran drills diligently and began training with a tennis coach day in and day out. 

By the time she was eight years old, Coco told her parents she wanted to become the greatest tennis player in the world. And her parents said: you can!

But becoming great was going to take some big changes. The three of them decided to move back to Florida when Coco was in second grade. This way, they could live with her grandparents while Corey became her full-time coach and Candi became her homeschool teacher. They were grateful to be able to lean on their family for support to help Coco go after her dreams.

Coco loved spending time with her family, cracking jokes and watching movies together. At home, she was goofy, silly, and always smiling. But on the court? She was focused, serious, and not afraid to be aggressive. “I take what I want,” she said. “I like to hit my serves.”

For years, Coco and Corey worked hard every day on the court. And by the time she was ten, Coco was playing so well that the coach of one of the best tennis players of all time, Serena Williams, took notice of her. Coco traveled all the way to France to train with him for a year. 

He saw something special in her—a confidence and drive you didn’t find every day in someone so young. He knew Coco was going to be great.

And she was. In 2017, she made headlines. At just 13 years old, Coco became the youngest girl in history to reach the US Open junior final.

Where had this rising star come from? People seemed to think she had materialized out of thin air.

But her dad Corey made it clear that Coco’s success was no accident. Instead, it had come from years of tenacity and hard work. “She might be overnight popular, but she’s not an overnight success,” he said.

Coco loved having her dad on her team, even though she’d get frustrated that all they did was talk about tennis. When they were at home eating dinner, he’d be giving her tips and pointers. Coco’s mom, Candi would plant herself between them. She’d say, you two have to learn to talk to each other and listen. With time, they got better at balancing tennis talk and life talk.

The support of her parents meant everything to Coco. Sometimes, she’d seek them out on the sidelines during a match. And when she spotted their familiar faces, a cool calm washed over her. 

And then, in 2019, Coco got a big surprise! She was fifteen years old and had just received a wildcard to get to play at Wimbledon! That’s the oldest, and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. She hopped on a plane to London, not believing her luck. 

But her shock only grew once she arrived. Coco learned that in the opening round, she would be playing against one of her biggest role models, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams! Venus had paved the way for Black female tennis players and Coco was in complete awe of all she had achieved. But was Coco ready to take her on?

On the day of the match, Coco walked down the corridor that led into the arena. She breathed steadily, blasting music through her headphones to drown out the tv cameras, the large crowd, and Venus Williams standing there across the net: in position, waiting, ready. Just focus on the tennis, Coco told herself.

The match flew by! Coco whipped the ball across the court on her serves, and dove, lunged, and reached with great accuracy on the returns. Tennis balls hit their rackets lightning fast, and were sent flying back with huge force.

Coco tried her very hardest, putting everything she’d learned with her dad onto the court. And… she WON. 

She lifted her arms over her head in disbelief, her mouth open, tears in her eyes. 

Coco approached Venus at the net. “Thank you for everything you’ve done,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without you.”

Coco made history that day, and got one step closer to achieving her dreams of becoming the very best. And part of becoming the very best meant going to the Olympics! Coco qualified for the 2020 Olympics, but got COVID and couldn’t compete. Still, she pushed through the disappointment, continuing to train hard, focusing on the things she could control. 

By August of 2023, her hard work once again paid off. At just 19 years old, Coco won two more huge tennis tournaments, breaking records along the way. Next up, the US Open.

There she was on that warm September afternoon in Queens, New York. It was the final match before the quarter-finals and Coco was preparing to serve against her competitor, Caroline Wozniacki. But on the sidelines, Coco’s player box was empty. Where was her dad? Could she make it through this moment without him? 

She scanned the crowd for Corey one last time, but then had to put the thought aside. This was her moment. 

As his daughter’s match progressed, Corey was nervously pacing laps around the stadium. All the sweat and tears and years of hard work— and now here they were. He just couldn’t sit still.

Even from far away, Coco could feel her dad’s support. She played her heart out on the court and won. 

Coco went on to win seven more matches, claiming victory at the U.S. Open, and winning her first Grand Slam title! She fell to the ground and cried tears of joy. Corey could not hold back his own tears. That day, Coco became the youngest American woman to win the tournament since Serena Williams in 1999! 

“Thank you, first, to my parents,” Coco said in her on-court interview. “Thank you guys, you believed in me from the beginning.”

Coco’s journey to become the greatest tennis player in the world continues, and Corey plans on supporting her, every serve, hit, and volley along the way. Their love of the game, and love for each other, is what keeps them going– not only when they win, but also when they lose, and all the moments in between.