Hours after successful her first United States Open tennis championship, in September, Coco Gauff took her Tiffany trophy for a nighttime swirl across the match grounds.
Dressed in the summertime’s sizzling shade — pink — she lip-synced to the No. 1 single from Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice:
“I’m bad like the Barbie/I’m a doll, but I still want to party.”
At 19, Gauff met the cultural second and made it her personal.
“That’s what great content creators do. They capture the essence of moments,” mentioned Kirby Porter, the founding father of New Game Labs, a advertising and marketing agency that helps start-ups work with athletes. “First, she embodied that in winning. And then that video? I literally downloaded it, and I was like, ‘Yes, Mood!’ That’s exactly how I feel.”
Born into a brand new technology of athlete creators, Gauff turned the M.C. for Gen Z together with her unscripted authenticity at this U.S. Open. She not solely raised her personal profile, however lifted girls’s tennis in want of a brand new celeb after the retirement of Serena Williams.
“To me, it’s been in a lull for a couple of years now, without having any personality,” mentioned Zina Garrison, who at Wimbledon in 1990 turned the primary Black lady to play a significant closing since Althea Gibson.
“It’s like the Women’s Tennis Association didn’t have an identity, and she’s bringing back the identity,” Garrison mentioned of Gauff.
A relentless defender on the court docket and a confident voice off it, Gauff, who was not obtainable to remark, proved that she is primed to make a long-term influence properly past sports activities. Inspired by her grandmother Yvonne Lee Odom, who built-in her Florida highschool in 1961, Gauff has used her platform to advertise social justice, together with Black Lives Matter, gender fairness and local weather change activism.
Now ranked No. 3 on the planet, Gauff enters this week’s year-end WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico, with a extra quick query: Has she recovered from a shoulder damage from a match in Beijing this month?
After successful 16 straight matches this summer time and fall, Gauff misplaced within the semifinals of the China Open to No. 2-ranked Iga Swiatek. Gauff then withdrew from one other match in China.
Her agent, Alessandro Barel Di Sant Albano of Team8, mentioned in an interview that Gauff had a “minor muscle injury” and that she could be prepared for Cancun. “She’s going with the mind-set of, ‘I am going to win this tournament,’ ” he mentioned.
Team8 has additionally been busy fielding requires her.
“There’s been at least 100 brands that have reached out,” Barel Di Sant Albano mentioned, including that Gauff already had seven partnerships, together with New Balance, which created her signature shoe.
“We’ve always taken the approach of ‘fewer, bigger, better’ and the idea that it doesn’t come and go away overnight,” he mentioned. “If you focus on what happens on the court, it will become much more off the court down the line.”
Gauff turned professional in 2018 at age 14. She had her breakthrough the next yr at Wimbledon, upsetting Venus Williams within the first spherical and operating to the fourth spherical in a surprising debut. She additionally gained her first W.T.A. match in 2019.
Gauff marked that four-year anniversary by posting a video on X, previously Twitter, of her celebrating the second with the quote: “I want to hug her.”
For Gen Z, the social media scrapbook has the receipts. See: Gauff as a bubbly 8-year-old dancing within the stands on the 2012 U.S. Open to “Call Me Maybe.” Nearly 750,000 individuals adopted her Instagram account within the final three months, a price of progress that ranks first amongst feminine tennis gamers, in line with MVP Index, a valuation and knowledge measurement firm that focuses on sponsorships in sports activities and leisure.
On TikTook, ESPN’s replay of Gauff protesting what she mentioned have been her opponent’s delay ways to the chair umpire in her opening match on the Open went viral, drawing 2.7 million likes.
In 2022, viewership on ESPN reached document ranges throughout Serena Williams’s farewell in a third-round loss. How would the Open fill that void?
According to ESPN, Gauff’s three-set championship victory towards Aryna Sabalenka was ESPN’s most-seen girls’s tennis closing. It peaked at 3.5 million viewers, in line with MVP Index.
That far surpassed the height of the boys’s closing — 2.7 million — when Novak Djokovic trounced Daniil Medvedev. In a summer time of surging curiosity in girls’s sports activities, together with in soccer’s World Cup and the W.N.B.A., Gauff’s championship averaged 2.8 million viewers in contrast with 2.3 million for the boys, MVP Index calculated.
She tried to FaceTime her brother Codey after she gained. During the trophy presentation, Gauff thanked her dad and mom, poking enjoyable at her father for crying, acknowledged Venus and Serena Williams for uplifting her and thanked the trailblazer Billie Jean King, whom the Open was celebrating for making equal prize cash potential for ladies 50 years in the past. Gauff gained $3 million.
But when Gauff delivered her most memorable message, “the whole tone of her voice changed,” mentioned Garrison, who was doing radio commentary. She went from lighthearted to “I have something to say,” Garrison recalled.
That’s when Gauff addressed her critics who thought she wouldn’t fulfill her potential. They thought they have been throwing water on her fireplace, however have been truly throwing gasoline: “I’m really burning so bright right now,” she mentioned.
“We could not have scripted the 2023 U.S. Open any better,” mentioned Stacey Allaster, the match director, who credited Gauff for understanding her platform. “And then she leans in and she inspires hundreds and thousands of girls to believe in themselves. Let’s just drop the mic.”
Joe Favorito, a sports activities advertising and marketing guide and a former govt with the W.T.A. and U.S. Tennis Association, questioned why he hadn’t seen extra of Gauff in ads because the Open.
“You have to take advantage of things while the spotlight is on you,” he mentioned. “Those are legacy opportunities.”
But Garrison disagreed. “I don’t think you have to push it with Coco,” she mentioned. “She’s not going anywhere. Coco’s here to stay.”