When Coco Gauff played Venus Williams at Wimbledon, it wasn’t an “easy” assignment for the 15-year-old. She was facing a role model, an inspiration, someone who set a standard and an example for Gauff to emulate. She was facing Venus on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, the most famous venue in tennis. Very little about that task was easy for Gauff.
However, one detail definitely helped Gauff in that moment: She had absolutely nothing to lose. Everything was new for her. She was just starting in her professional career. Few expected her to actually prevail. She had not yet become a media sensation. She could take the court and let it ride.
Venus Williams, nearing her 40th birthday, has nothing to prove. Her iconic status in tennis is permanent and substantial, and nothing will erode it.
She doesn’t carry the kind of pressure Serena Williams does, trying to get rid of that nagging 24th title on her checklist so that no one has to talk about it anymore.
Venus isn’t playing with the enormous baggage on Karolina Pliskova’s back. The Czech veteran is trying to win that elusive first major, as are a number of other veterans such as Kiki Bertens and Jo Konta.
Yet, if compared to Gauff on that Wimbledon afternoon last summer, Venus did have more pressure. Just two years earlier, she played in the Wimbledon final. Even for a player with nothing to prove, the reality of recent high achievement creates a natural desire to want to retain — or come close to retaining — a high standard.
No, the consequences of defeat for Venus on that day were not shattering. They remain insignificant now. That story won’t be rewritten. Yet, Venus had something to protect. Gauff, with a clean slate at the start of a career, had nothing to protect.
Gauff played that match the way a player should play when she has nothing to lose. Venus played that match like a player who did indeed have something to protect. It was all new for Gauff, whereas Venus had to withstand a challenge.
The newness of the moment worked for Coco, but it is worth emphasizing that Gauff MADE the newness of the moment work for her. She wasn’t a passive recipient of the moment’s benefits. She created them. She brought them into existence.
With all that as a backdrop, Gauff faced a different reality when facing Venus again, this time at the 2020 Australian Open. If Gauff had nothing to protect last summer in England, she clearly did have something to protect in Melbourne.
Could she back it up? Could she do it again? Could she win when Venus had a better feel for her playing style and lines of attack?
The old saying Gauff applied on Monday in Melbourne: “One’s an accident; two’s a trend.”
Replicating results is a central test of life on the tennis tour. The biggest challenge isn’t to win in one moment, but to win regularly, to spend whole weeks in cities instead of two days. Yes, two days are better than one, but top-flight pros make full weeks and (at majors) fortnights out of their season.
Could Gauff handle the pressure, plus Venus’ study of the film of the first match, plus a fresh wave of media scrutiny?
Yes. Yes she could. Yes she did.
That’s it. That’s the tweet. Coco Gauff replicated a significant result. She could not have asked for a better start to 2020. Let’s see where this year’s journey goes.