Coco Gauff

Though neither Coco Gauff or Frances Tiafoe were ultimate winners at this year’s U.S. Open, both became the talk of the tournament. They also represent the future for American tennis, and also the potential successors to Serena Williams and Arthur Ashe as both great tennis champions and also pivotal cultural figures as stars in a sport that for years has been largely white and country club.

This week Gauff becomes the youngest American to reach the Top 10 in the world rankings since a 17-year-old Serena Williams did so in 1999.  At 18 years and 183 days old, she’s enjoying a stellar year to date. Gauff reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open to follow making the French Open Finals, her first Grand Slam final, Her other achievements include reaching the semifinals of the WTA 250 Adelaide International and the WTA 500 bettleopen, and the quarterfinals at three other WTA events. She also reached the number one position in the world doubles ranking in August, making her the second youngest person to achieve that goal,

Her previous high ranking was 11 and she entered the U.S, Open ranked 12th. Assuming she stays injury free, her chances for stardom seem very high. 

At 24, Tiafoe has been around longer than Gauff, and had enormous expectations on his head for quite a while. His win at the Delray Open in 2018 alerted the tennis world to his potential, but he’s been inconsistent ever since. No one has questioned the talent, but he’s been unable to harness it regularly enough to make it through Grand Slam competition until the Open.

After he ousted perennial champ and longtime great Rafael Nadal, interest in Tiafoe surged. He made it to the semifinals before losing an epic five set match to Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz, who may only be 19 but is currently ranked number three in the world. Tiafoe was highly emotional after the match, saying “I gave everything I had these past two weeks. I came here wanting to win a U.S. Open and I feel like I let you guys down. This one really, really hurts. Too good from Carlos.I am going to come back and I will win this thing one day. “I proved that I can play with the best and I’m capable of winning Grand Slams,” he told reporters.

Tiafoe is trying to fill an enormous. hole. Male American players have been missing in action when it comes to Grand Slams for a long time,. The days of Ashe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and others are long gone, An American male hasn’t won the U.S, Open since 2003 and the last time one even made the finals was 2006,

The last prominent Black American tennis. player was James Blake, who won 10 titles and reached 24 finals and at one point was ranked number four in the world. He played from 2000-2013. Of course the greatest Black American tennis star was Arthur Ashe. He remains the only Black man to win Wimbledon, the U.S. and Australian Opens as well as ascending to the number one spot in the world.

As Serena Williams stands as the mantle of greatness to Coco Gauff, so do Arthur Ashe and James Blake for Frances Tiafoe. But whether either, both or neither of them ever approach the totals of their predecessors, they represent fresh faces and the chance for greatness in the future.