Turn Away from the World Cup. It’s Time to Watch Venus-Slayer Cori Gauff Play Tennis

Sports

Turn Away from the World Cup. It’s Time to Watch Venus-Slayer Cori Gauff Play Tennis

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I

n the last month in India, there is just one sport everywhere you look. It’s even more overpowering if you like me, are bang in the middle of a newsroom that is teeming with cricket producers, commentators, analysts, former cricketers, and very many small monitors and television sets that relay both, World Cup matches and the utter reliance on, and the indispensability of cricket as a truly Indian sport. On more than one occasion, random conversations have found their expiry date in one question: Who will India end up facing in the semi-final? No one seems to tire of these talks and the languorous conversations carry from one match onto another, despite a dose of dead rubbers strewn in between. 

I plead you to turn away from that obsession just for a moment. Tear your gaze away from a magnificent shot or possibly a stunning yorker. Cast your attention instead to Wimbledon. In the cricket haze you missed a rare sight of a pumped up Rafael Nadal breathing fury against Nick Krygios in a Round 2 encounter, an ageless Roger Federer still proving he has better control than youngsters trying to rise up the ranks or a mother struggling to show the world she can still win a Grand Slam. But that’s not all. What you missed is one of the most glorious unforeseeable incidents in sport. So often, we seem to forget that sport also has the power to change you. And, this Wimbledon, Grand Slam debutante Cori Grauff has been the single-handed reminder of that.

It was a few days before the start of the main draw that I managed to catch a few snapshots of this young American. She’d just stormed through the qualifiers and had been able to make it to the main draw at arguably the most prestigious Grand Slam tournament of the year. It didn’t seem like a rare achievement to me, back then. But a couple of days later, when I chanced upon her name again, I realised the most important bit of information I had skimmed – Cori Gauff was 15 years old. Cori Gauff was the youngest player to have qualified for Wimbledon, after receiving a wildcard offer. It didn’t end there. Cori Gauff was also the 15-year-old who defeated 39-year-old Venus Williams – once a teen prodigy herself – in the first round in an astonishing 6-4, 6-4 victory.

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Watching Gauff makes me truly want to seize every moment that I possibly let go off all these years and make it larger than life.

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Watching Gauff play was like an instant time machine: It took me back to the 15-year old me who crammed for her exams, got tense before her assignments, but also took permission to skip classes just so she could catch a train to the neighbouring city to take part in a tennis tournament. I take one look at Cori Gauff and I wish I was 15 again. I wish I had played with sharper intent. 

Cori Gauff was the youngest player to have qualified for Wimbledon, after receiving a wildcard offer.

I have watched her match against Venus Williams over and over again. I’m certain that that match will go down in the annals of tennis history as an unforgettable encounter.

Imagine a 15-year-old up against her idol in a first round match of a Grand Slam event in front of a huge crowd. The moment itself sounds daunting and then there are the nerves. Murmurs of whether she would hold up against a former Wimbledon champion fall louder on the ears each time. And yet, Gauff was emotionless throughout the match. Even during changeovers, she was staring fixedly before getting back on the other side to carry on. At one point in the second set, some birds cawed loud and the tense crowd broke into a titter. Even then, Gauff showed nothing. It was only minutes later, when an unforced error from Williams gave her the match, she couldn’t stop herself. Gauff immediately caught the jubilant faces of her parents who had jumped up in shocked excitement before jogging over to the net in a daze. The crowd couldn’t stop applauding what was undoubtedly the birth of a child hero.

cori_gauff_venus_williams

Cori Gauff was also the 15-year-old who defeated 39-year-old Venus Williams – once a teen prodigy herself – in the first round in an astonishing 6-4, 6-4 victory.

BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

It’s important that you don’t forget that she is 15. Because, on the court, it’s a whole different Gauff – a steely, determined player who plays every game like it’s her last, even when it’s against someone she grew up idolising. In the match against Williams, she displayed sound tactics: Gauff rarely went for the winner and when she did, it was only if more than half the court was open. In fact, she was patient in her rallies and waited for Williams to make the error. All of her strengths on court mixed with the unbelievable maturity that she brings, gives you a heady concoction. 

Sure there was Martina Hingis in my younger days leading the way for something remarkable to come. But I guess some things impact you when you begin to comprehend the complexities much better. Watching Gauff makes me truly want to seize every moment that I possibly let go off all these years and make it larger than life. Here is the youngest player on the toughest of turfs showing you how it’s done, with every single point. Maybe somewhere something has changed in the way I will look at opportunities hereon. 

Why do I urge you to watch Cori “Coco” Gauff? Because the unpredictable teaches you much more than the known. There rarely comes a moment in sports when everything else freezes and that instant becomes historic and you get front-row tickets to it. There are fewer moments that make you want to go back in time as a reminder not to be too hard on yourself and just do the one thing you love the most. Gauff did that for me. That’s what watching real amazing sport should be able to do.

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