LONDON (Reuters) - When American high school student Cori Gauff began the 2019 season ranked 875 in the world, not many would have given her a second glance let alone predicted that six months later she would set Wimbledon alight.
The 15-year-old who used to think “it’s weird for people to take pictures of me” had better get used to the spotlight since she was the talk of the town on Monday after beating her idol and five-times champion Venus Williams in the first round.
Not satisfied with pulling off one of the all-time shocks in Wimbledon history, Gauff, who is known as Coco, wasted little time in declaring her long-term goals.
“I want to be the greatest,” she said, echoing the kind of words that became synonymous with boxing icon Muhammad Ali.
The youngest player in the singles draw certainly delivered an almighty knockout punch to floor Williams, who at 39 was the oldest woman in the Wimbledon women’s singles draw.
“I wasn’t surprised that I won. My dad told me that I could do this when I was eight. My goal is to win it (Wimbledon),” the world number 313, who needed a wildcard to play in qualifying, said following her 6-4 6-4 win.
In case anyone thought Gauff was full of hot air on the back of just one win, the great and the good of tennis were ready to back up her predictions.
“She has been raised for greatness and this is just the beginning,” said Tracy Austin, who was just 14 when she first played at Wimbledon.
Seven-times Grand Slam champion John McEnroe was even more vocal in his support: “If she isn’t number one in the world by the time she is 20 I would be absolutely shocked. It was too bad for Venus that she had to play her.”
Williams, who had won four of her seven major titles before Gauff was born, had been looking forward to Monday’s battle of the generations too as she had declared on the eve of the match: “I’m so excited. Got ants in my pants.”
It was just too bad that 24 hours later, she was the one left deflated.
“If I went into this match saying, ‘Let’s see how many games I can get against her’, then I most definitely would not have won,” said Gauff, who even completed a science test during her run through the qualifiers.
“My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That’s what happened. I think people just kind of limit themselves too much.
“Once you actually get your goal, then it’s like what do you do now? I like to shoot really high. So that way I always have many goals along the road, but that way you have the ultimate goal.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris