September 17, 2023

History Makers

coco gauff

USA’s Coco Gauff holds the trophy after defeating Belarus’s Aryna Sabalenka in the US Open tennis tournament women’s singles final match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City, on September 9, 2023. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

By Patrick Omorodion

Not since Serena Jameka Williams stormed the tennis world as a 17-year-old in 1999 has the tennis world seen a dogged youngster make an impression at a Grand

Slam as one of the youngest American to win a Grand Slam title. Martina Hingis, as a Swiss teenager, first did the incredible at 16, the youngest woman champion in the Open Era.

Serena went on to garner 23 Grand Slam women’s titles in her 27 years pro career, the most in the Open Era. She called it quits last year after she failed to equal the record of Margaret Court which Djokovic just equalled last week with his 24th Grand Slam victory over Daniil Medvedev at the 2023 US Open. Djokovic thus made double history.

He not only equalled Court’s 24 wins but in the process became the first male player to do so and also the oldest men’s Grand Slam champion in the Open Era at 36 years.

“I don’t know where to start. It obviously means the world to me,” said Djokovic after the victory, stressing, “I never imagined I would be standing talking about 24 Grand Slams but the last couple of years I’ve felt I have a chance and I have a shot at history and why not grab it.”

Before Djokovic’s historic US Open win, another youngster, Coco Gauff won the women’s title, to become the second youngest American since 1999 after Serena to win a Grand Slam at 19.

She first hit the limelight in 2019 when she took the tennis world by storm as the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon. As a 15-year-old that year, she made it to the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut.

She didn’t rest on her oars. Last year, she competed for her first major title at the 2022 French Open but lost to Iga Swiatek. A crestfallen Gauff promised to come back stronger.

Enter 2023, after a disappointing finish at Wimbledon, Gauff appeared at Flushing Meadows as an underdog but determined to make a break from past disappointments.

In the final against Aryna Sabalenka, as predicted by tennis buffs, the Belarusian wrapped up the first set, winning 6-2. As if that was the tonic the American teenager needed, she returned strong with a 6-3, 6-2 victory in the following two sets, to everyone’s surprise and delight. She then thanked those who never believed in her for “adding gas” to her fire.

Her history did not stop at being the youngest since Serena to win a Grand Slam and sharing the limelight with Djokovic at the 2023 US Open, she made a mess of Djokovic’s claim that men’s tennis are better viewed than the women’s.

Some years ago, while making a claim for men to receive more pay for a Grand Slam win, Djokovic said that the ATP “should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches” than that of women.

However, the Gauff-Sabalenka final made nonsense of that claim as the stats showed that Gauff’s win delivered 3.4 million viewers on ESPN while Djokovic’s victory over Medvedev, a record-setting 24th Grand Slam title for that matter, averaged 2.3 million viewers, 1.1 million less than the women’s final.

Since the stats showed the US Open viewership for both men and women’s finals, fans have taken to the social media to slam Djokovic, mocking him over the statement he made many years ago.

One of such is Kendall Jamaal who wrote through the X account of @kendalljamaal that though Djokovic is he’s favourite, “I’d like to point out that Novak once argued that women did not deserve equal pay because men carried the sport and garnered more ratings. I hope he’s seen this news and knows Coco Gauff has more star power today than he ever has.”

Another fan didn’t spare Djokovic for his controversial remark on equal pay, stressing via her X handle @nancy_kiu: “Lol this mofo once said female tennis players didn’t deserve equal pay, because men brought the viewers? And yet, nobody cared to watch him make history.”

A female fan named Claudia Black hit Djokovic the hardest with her tweet “Congratulations for all the accomplishments @CocoGauff. Jock-itch should have bitten down on a dirty jockstrap instead of sharing his opinions about men deserving more pay for bringing more eyeballs to tennis. Time obviously for Ms Gauff to get paid more than he does”.

Despite the women’s solidarity with Gauff, Djokovic deserves his historic record-equalling feat. And he has said that he intends to continue playing, because retirement is not in his sight now.

He told reporters who wanted to know his next move in the game that, “Occasionally I ask myself ‘why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done? How long do I want to keep going?’

And he answered it himself saying, “I don’t want to leave this sport if I’m still at the top, if I’m still playing this way. Eventually, one day I will leave tennis in about 23, 24 years. And there is going to be new young players coming up.

Until then, I guess you will see me a bit more. ‘I’m going to keep going. You know, I feel good in my own body. I still feel I’ve got the support of my environment, of my team, of my family.

‘The Grand Slams, I have said in the last few years, have been always the highest goal and the priority of mine in the whole season.

‘I don’t play as much in terms of other tournaments, so I try to prioritise my preparation so that I can peak in slams.

Djokovic may be joking on his prediction to keep playing for about 24 more years. But for Gauff, her journey in the Grand Slam race just began with Serena’s 23 or Court’s 24 titles on her mind. At least she is just 19, about a year older than when Serena started winning. I toast to Gauff and Djokovic, the History Makers.