Coco Gauff: The Unshakeable Faith Powering Tennis’s Brightest New Superstar

Few athletes ever generate the level of hype and expectations that have trailed tennis phenom Cori “Coco” Gauff, from the moment she burst onto the professional scene as a teenager. 

Yet with grace and mental strength beyond her years, the now 18-year-old has remained laser focused amid the fanfare – thanks in no small part to the unshakeable Christian faith instilled by family and Florida’s Saint John Missionary Baptist Church from childhood. 

As Gauff embarks on what experts predict could shape into a generation-defining career, she has opened up on how beliefs shape her training, triumphs and setbacks alike.

The Making of a Prodigy: Gauff’s Rapid Rise to the Top

The Making of a Prodigy: Gauff's Rapid Rise to the Top

Coco was hardly the first gifted young athlete that legendary tennis coach Gerard Loglo first encountered. 

But as he tells of Gauff at age 7, taking lessons at his academy built by father Corey Gauff, her skill level soon looked “unlike anything I had ever witnessed at that age.” Loglo describes his initial thought upon watching the young Gauff drill groundstrokes:

“My goodness, where did this girl come from?”

Gauff would go on to become the youngest-ever finalist in the girls’ singles event at 2017’s US Open at just 13. And in 2018, fulfilling a lifelong dream, she went pro – just days before turning 15. 

Nonetheless, Gauff remained patient in her steady ascension up the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. Early 2019 brought a string of lower-level WTA victories that saw the new upstart crack the top 300. 

And then came her history-making 2019 Wimbledon debut.

In was in London where Gauff announced herself as a force to be reckoned with.

By that point no stranger to notching ‘youngest-ever’ records, a then 15-year-old Gauff became the youngest player in the Open era to advance through qualifying at Wimbledon. Ranked 313th entering the tournament, expectations were modest. 

But what ensued was nothing short of shockwaves erupting throughout the tennis world.

Matched against one of her idols in 39-year-old legend Venus Williams, Gauff unleashed a level of athleticism, shot-making flair, and composure under pressure that awed seasoned tennis analysts. 

She needed just an hour and 15 minutes to dispatch Williams en route to a dazzling Round of 16 run. The BBC raved “We may be witnessing the emergence of a new tennis superstar in Cori Gauff.” The resounding statement left tennis bracing for a new era.

Within a year Gauff would secure her first singles title

Despite her rise being temporarily slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic’s 2020 tennis hiatus just as momentum built, Gauff roared back with fiery determination upon the WTA Tour’s return. 

By 2021 she had ascended into the top 30, intensifying anticipation for a first singles trophy. 

The breakthrough finally came last October at the WTA 250 Emilia-Romagna Open, where then 17-year-old Gauff breezed through the draw without dropping a set.

Now firmly established entering 2023’s Australian Open seeded seventh, Gauff has fixed sight of even loftier summits – and the experts back her to scale them.

Longtime ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert projects:

Given the relentless improvement Gauff has shown year to year … breaking into the top 10 this season seems a given, and I anticipate Grand Slam title number one comes possibly as early as the 2023 French Open.”

It’s the type of bold forecast that might heap undue pressure onto any rising star, let alone a teenager. 

Yet Gauff’s uncommon mental fortitude rooted in lifelong faith promises to help her shine even brighter on the grandest stages still ahead.

The Tennis Star Guided By the Gospel

The Tennis Star Guided By the Gospel

Gauff had just wrapped her first day of Kindergarten when father Corey picked up his daughter from Palm Beach Gardens school and asked what she learned that morning. 

As Corey tells it, a young Coco replied without hesitation:

 “We learned about God. He’s the creator of all things!”

Coco then excitedly rattled off everything she had absorbed in class about Jesus Christ’s teachings and role as savior. 

It was a beginning glimpse into a devotion to Christian theology and practice that would come to anchor all parts of her life – tennis dreams included.

By age seven when that forehand flashed future talent, belief had already carved the foundation of Gauff’s identity.

The family integrated Coco and younger brothers Cameron and Cody Ann into Saint John Missionary Baptist Church’s tightknit community from the start. 

She sang in the children’s choir and never missed a weekly Bible youth class aimed at applying scripture to navigating life’s challenges. 

Most Sundays even found the Gauff kids volunteering to collect donation offerings passed through the pews.

It was here under the guidance of Pastors Elaine and Jimmy Jackson that Coco learned core values like service, perseverance, compassion, and humility. 

Teachings she now says keep both feet firmly planted on the ground amidst the fanfare whirling around tennis stardom.

As rising renown inevitably impacts junior players, Coco has leaned on church-centered beliefs to reinforce perspective.

When asked about influences beyond the court after her 2019 US Open run, a 16-year old Gauff pointed first to her faith:

“I am a practicing Christian, and that grounds me in knowing tennis is really just a game. Win or lose, I know what matters most is embodying the positive values like humility and kindness I’ve been taught since attending my family’s church.”

Now under an ever-brighter spotlight as years pass, it is precisely this grounding that helps Gauff “stay sane,” as she now puts it.

The Prayers Powering Success

Edging towards a late evening Australian Open quarterfinal faceoff with former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in 2023, Gauff’s last movements before taking the court bear noticeable hallmarks of her faith. 

Gathering with parents Corey and Candi in a corridor beneath Rod Laver Arena, the three bow heads, clasp hands, and settle into a 1-minute silent prayer.

Watching intently as Gauff then strides down the tunnel alone, ESPN commentator Mary Jo Fernandez remarks:

 “There may be no better reminder that Coco is still just an 18-year-old out there shouldering immense expectations than witnessing her keepsake moment of prayer alongside mom and dad.”

Yet such steadying rituals before matches have defined the Gauff family dynamic since Coco first gripped a racket.

Whether the stage was a local 10-and-under tournament or now the sport’s most prestigious Grand Slam events, the path to competitive success has always begun on spiritual footing for the Gauffs. 

Coco attests praying in the minutes before warmups commence centers her thoughts, aligns her focus with God, and steels nerves.

It also carries on a time-heeded formula the family has followed from the start. 

Just as 7-year-old Coco would join parents, siblings, and grandmother in brief pre-match prayer circles at Palm Beach Gardens parks district courts, the values-affirming tradition continues intact entering the biggest matches of her ascendant career.

As tennis Hall of Famer and ESPN commentator Chris Evert observes:

“You can really spot the impact of Coco’s faith when she competes through her resilience and how she composes herself even amid adversity. Those intangibles separate the great from the elite, and I believe faith plays an integral role in sharpening her mental game.”

And the results speak for themselves.

Conquering Pressure Through Belief

When Gauff reflects on the most pivotal moments en route to stardom, the role her spirituality played in navigating them shines through. She points to 2020’s Australian Open second-round showdown with reigning champion Naomi Osaka as a telling example.

Having stunned tennis fans months earlier with her magical Wimbledon debut, expectations weighed heavily on the teenager as the pair of rising stars battled into a fraught deciding set. 

After dropping the first three games and staring down the brink of defeat, many a player would have crumbled. Yet Gauff tapped into faith for composure many veterans lack.

Roaring back from what seemed a near-insurmountable deficit, she ultimately came within two points of a monumental upset before Osaka’s experience prevailed by the slimmest of margins. Still, Gauff walked away resolute.

“That was a turning point match for me mentally,” she now says looking back. “My faith teaches that there is sempre greater purpose behind any result. I reminded myself getting discouraged was pointless … [it] focused me on improving.”

Any lingering questions over whether Coco could persevere through adversity were perhaps laid fully to rest by 2021’s French Open. 

After a mistake-strewn loss in the opening round, Gauff channeled what coach Carlos Martinez called “grace and perspective


What religious faith is Coco Gauff?

Coco Gauff identifies as a devout Christian. She attends an Episcopal church in Florida.

Why is Coco Gauff so famous?

Coco Gauff rocketed to fame in 2019 when she defeated Venus Williams at Wimbledon as a 15-year-old qualifier. This made her the youngest player to advance through Wimbledon qualifying.

How old was Coco Gauff when she became a professional tennis player?

Coco Gauff turned professional in 2018 at the incredibly young age of 14.

Why did Coco Gauff change her name?

Coco Gauff was born Cori Gauff. She explaining that her grandmother nicknamed her Coco as a child, so she prefers using Coco as her public name.

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