Some people would crow about smashing a former champion out of Wimbledon. Not Coco Gauff.
The 15-year-old reacted to her win with grace and charm, just like the defeated Venus Williams. And between them, they provided the best news of the week.
We watch sport for the stories. Coco was the youngest player to qualify for the event since 1968. Venus was the oldest woman in the draw. Youthful enthusiasm took on a woman of experience, and won in straight sets.
Coco – real name Cori – was also a wildcard, just like a 17-year-old Boris Becker back in 1985. Who could forget him vaulting over the Centre Court net after clinching the championship? It was a joy to hear people chant “Boris! Boris!” then. Not so much today.
But most importantly, Coco was playing a woman she’d looked up to since Venus inspired her to pick up a racket aged seven. To compete against what you worship is hard, to win astounding – and Coco managed it for one simple reason.
Over years of coaching she learned to focus like Venus and her sister Serena, whose picture was on her bedroom wall, urging her on. She trained, studied, suffered, strived, to be like them. And then she went on to Court One, brought her own game, and won.
Every strand of the story in that match is inspiring, but none more so than the power of having a good role model. Whether it’s Venus, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, or Ellen White, an adult who, win or lose, plays a good game gives youngsters a space they can grow into, and then grow out of.
It’s like parenting, in a way, but on a grander, better-paid, and less-forgiving scale. Parents are always flawed, because we see them up close. An idol is distant and perfect, which is why the public get so disgusted when other pictures on bedroom walls turn out to include adulterers, gamblers, or tax dodgers.
Venus Williams has known for 25 years the responsibility of being so admired. Perhaps that’s why after losing to Coco she made a brief appearance for the cameras to congratulate her, before retiring to punch the wall in private.
One of my idols was a chief reporter on my first local paper. She taught me how to handle death knocks, sub editors and Fleet Street drinking games.
Another was my gran, who railed at Tories after Sunday lunch and baked stonking cakes. I remember being 15, desperate to have a purpose, and adulthood, and the ability to have a crack at all these things. They taught me how, just like Venus did Coco.
Idols matter. Applaud Coco for finding her purpose, and applaud Venus for delivering it.
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