It did not take winning the U.S. Open for Coco Gauff to prove she is a great champion

Coco Gauff won a tennis tournament Saturday. A very important tennis tournament. In fact, one of the biggest, most lucrative tennis tournaments in the world, and certainly the most illustrious in this country.

But the 19-year-old from Delray Beach did not need to become the first teenager in more than two decades to win the U.S. Open to stamp her impact on society. While being a Grand Slam Champion certainly puts her in the upper echelon of athletes in all sports, Gauff has accomplished so much at such a young age that this victory by no means defines her. Nor is it her greatest achievement in life.

Being a Grand Slam Champion is amazing. But what it does away from sport is empower Gauff and magnify the platform she has so passionately embraced as an activist.

Gauff has shown to have wisdom and character well beyond her years.

“She’s an extraordinary tennis player and even more extraordinary human being,” Chris Evert said Saturday during the telecast on ESPN. “I think we’ve seen all that at such a young age. She’s really spoken out for a lot of great issues, very important issues. She has social conscience.”

Evert’s comments came before she mentioned one powerful forehand, one point in Gauff’s 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Aryna Sabalenka, the women who will move to No. 1 in the world this week. Gauff’s mental toughness is extraordinary and it was on display for two weeks in Queens. Three times she lost the first set of her match and four times she was pushed to the full three sets.

Think about what you were doing at 19. And what you had already accomplished. I’ll go out on a limb and guess no one reading this can say:

Sep 9, 2023; Flushing, NY, USA; Coco Gauff of the United States speaks during the trophy ceremony after her match against Aryna Sabalenka (not pictured) in the women’s singles final on day thirteen of the 2023 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Coco Gauff has done it all. And that protest at Arthur Ashe Stadium came Thursday in the middle of Gauff’s semifinal match against Karolina Muchova.

“I always speak about preaching, you know, preaching about what you feel and what you believe in,” Gauff said Thursday following the win. “It was done in a peaceful way, so I can’t get too mad at it. Obviously, I don’t want it to happen when I’m winning, up 6-4, 1-0, and I wanted the momentum to keep going. But, hey, if that’s what they felt they needed to do to get their voices heard, I can’t really get upset at it.

“Moments like this are history-defining moments. “

Coco takes stance on racial injustice

Three summers ago, Gauff, just barely old enough to drive, took a stance on racial injustice after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, who eventually was sentenced to 21 years in prison.

“I think it’s sad that I’m here protesting the same thing that (my grandmother) did 50-plus years ago,” Gauff said. “So I’m here to tell you guys that we must first love each other no matter what. We must have the tough conversations with our friends. I’ve been spending all week having tough conversations, trying to educate my non-Black friends on how they can help the movement. Second, we need to take action.”

More: Coco Gauff’s grandmother was the first Black student at a Delray Beach school. How’d she do it?

Gauff then urged everyone of age to vote for “my future, my brother’s future and your future,” and to “use your voice, no matter how big or small your platform is.”

These are not the actions of a young woman whose achievements will stop on a tennis court.

About 18 months ago, the month Florida signed its first Republican-backed anti-LGBTQ+ bill into law that would prohibit classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for many young students, Gauff spoke out.

She was three days shy of turning 18.

“I think these conversations are important, and for me, who has friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I couldn’t imagine not being able to talk about your identity,” Gauff said. “I feel that’s something that is normal.”

Gauff has received messages from President Joe Biden and former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama for her historic win. DeSantis, the governor from the state in which Gauff lives, has yet to acknowledge Gauff. On Saturday, DeSantis was being booed while attending the Iowa-Iowa State football game.

When Gauff was handed her $3 million winner’s check, she turned to tennis and social activist legend Billie Jean King. Because of King, 50 years ago the U.S. Open became the first major to pay men and women equally.

“Thank you Billie, for fighting for this,” Gauff said.

Five months ago, King spoke about the endless possibilities when it comes to Gauff’s life, including her being the president who one day congratulates a U.S. Open champion.

“Can you imagine if she were No. 1? Holy cannoli, what she could accomplish,” King said at the time. “The world’s open to her. Why not be the president of the United States? Whatever she wants. She’s had a good background, good people around her.”

This week, Gauff will rise to a career-high No. 3 in the world. But whether she is No. 1, or even president, Coco Gauff is ready to conquer the world – on and off the tennis court.

More: Coco Gauff plays for US Open championship: 8 things to know about Delray Beach tennis star

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Coco Gauff is a greater champion off the court even after winning U.S. Open

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