Coco Gauff’s historic run in Wimbledon may have fallen short of making it to the final rounds, but it put the 15-year-old prodigy on the map for people across not only tennis but the sports world in general. Across sports, fans and media alike love a young phenom, and Gauff is just the latest in a long line of teen athletes who made names for themselves before they were able to vote, and in some cases, before they could drive.
They are tales of hard work, generational talent, and astronomical expectations, and if Gauff wants to take the next step, she can look into the past for motivation.
Coco Gauff’s run
Gauff first made a name for herself on the junior circuit, garnering much success in both the singles and doubles plays. At her young age, making the cut at Wimbledon was impressive enough, but what Gauff showed was that merely making it was not good enough for her, and she made her way through three rounds of opponents before eventually losing to Simona Halep, who went on to win the final round against Serena Williams.
Along the way, Gauff ran into Venus Williams, who she grew up idolizing alongside her sister Serena. It was here that torch, of sorts, was passed, and a reminder that the Williams sisters were once in her shoes.
The Williams Sisters
Venus and Serena Williams, although now among the older competitors in women’s tennis, were once in Gauff’s shoes, with each being around her age when they first went pro. In the best-case scenario, Gauff can have a similar arc. Although Serena has risen as quite possibly the greatest tennis player in history, Venus is not far behind.
Under the tutelage of their father, from an early age, the sisters have won 30 combined grand slams and countless other tournaments, have both been number 1 at various times, and have even won together on occasion, but superstar teen athletes are not limited to tennis.
Being touted as the next big thing can often be a death knell for young players, but LeBron James didn’t succumb to the trap. Sports Illustrated christened him “The Chosen One” before he graduated high school, and the nicknames fits. Knowing that he would eventually be the first pick in the NBA draft, LeBron rose near the end of the era where high school players were allowed to forego college, and the 17 years since speak for themselves.
Bryce Harper drew LeBron James comparisons as he made a name for himself. He dropped out of high school at 16 and earned his GED at 17, banking on his baseball ability to get him to wherever it was that he needed to go. That allowed him to be drafted one year earlier than he was going to be if he completed high school, and he was only 17 when the Nationals picked him. It seems that he made the right move.
Forget about joining the ranks of standout teen athletes — Michelle Wie was barely a teenager when she not only began to make a name for herself on the LPGA circuit, but on the men’s circuit. At the 2004 Sony Open, 14-year-old Wie missed the cut by only one stroke, making some believe that she would eventually make the cut if she kept on trying. Although Wie is now in her 20s, injuries have derailed her career, and some wonder if she will ever make it to the top again.
Turning the clock way back, Mel Ott was only 17 years old when he first took the plate for the New York Giants, and he spent his next 21 years playing for that same team. Although he predated television, Ott had a superstar career, hitting 511 home runs and boasting a career .304 batting average. He may have predated the hype of modern media, but Ott never disappointed despite starting at such an early age.