Coco Gauff had an unusual run to her US Open title in 2023. She did not seem to play perfect tennis but instead simply more athletic than her opponent. Gauff ran down seemingly everything Aryna Sabalenka hit in the final. The narrative, though, seemed to be that Coco Gauff won not because she is capable of great tennis but because she can just outlast her opponent.
The same narrative seems to be holding for the Australian Open as well. Gauff is set to play Sabalenka in the semifinals on Thursday, but the implication from former top-ten player, Arnaud Clement, is that Gauff is not playing well, but is just a better athlete. In fact, Clement said Gauff's performance in Gauff's quarterfinal win was "extremely poor."
Really? That seems overly harsh, right? I am not sure how many among us have made a semifinal in a Grand Slam event, but if our play to get to that spot was "extremely poor" then we might consider ourselves either really lucky or simply a great enough player to keep winning even when we are not playing our best. To be sure, Coco Gauff is more skilled than lucky.
Coco Gauff is a great tennis player, not just a great athlete
Clement, though, doubled down about Gauff on Eurosport saying, "...rarely commented on a match of this quality at this stage of the competition." Again, this was kind of the same kind of words we heard about Gauff in her run at the US Open. It is almost as if tennis pundits do not want us to believe Gauff is a great player, but simply a very good athlete.
That kind of thinking smacks a bit like racism. "The African-American is a good enough athlete but not really a pure player" the implication might be from those who say she gives "poor performances" on Gauff's way to making a deep run in a Grand Slam. This is extremely wrong. A big part of tennis is being able to cover the court well and Gauff does that brilliantly. That is tennis talent.
Gauff will next play second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals. Gauff leads the all-time head-to-head between the two players 4-2. Both players are great at tennis (not just athletes) so the match should be excellent and a must-watch event for tennis fans.