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The Successor: Who will assume Serena Williams' mantle?

The Successor: Who will assume Serena Williams' mantle?

As the player of the decade closes in on the finish line, who will grab the baton? Coco Gauff is an intriguing candidate.

Coco Gauff isn't playing this week, but it's her week on

—Monday: Coco's cover story, from the November/December issue of TENNIS Magazine
—Tuesday: U.S. Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi breaks down Gauff's backhand, frame by frame
—Wednesday: Chris Evert on Serena Williams' possible successors
—Thursday: Steve Tignor on Corey's and Coco's father-daughter, and coach-player, relationship
—Friday: Coco in Photos—looking back at a breakthrough year

There’s little doubt that from personality to performance, Serena Williams was the best women’s tennis player of the past decade. A strong case could also be made that she owns the distinction since the start of the century. But as dominant as Serena has been, it’s a (near) certainty that over the ensuing decade, she will retire, and another player will assume her mantle. And we have an intriguing candidate for the role: 15-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff.

Gauff’s run to the fourth round of Wimbledon appeared like a bolt of lightning, but her prodigious success in the juniors—winning a Grand Slam title and reaching No. 1 by 14—gave fair warning of her potential. Her skill set of powerful strokes and athleticism are apparent, and she’s willing to engage from all parts of the court. Yes, she could refine her volleys and other parts of her game, but there’s a completeness to her that’s unusual for someone so young. 

Yet what was most impressive about Gauff’s Wimbledon, along with her third-round run at the US Open, was her composure. Regardless of the occasion or the opponent, nothing seemed to faze Gauff. Not only does she have the physical tools, she appears just as formidable mentally.

Some have argued that Gauff’s growth could be stymied by the WTA’s age-eligibility rule limiting her schedule. I actually think it will serve as a positive. She’ll still be able to enter plenty of tour-level events while getting valuable time to work on her game—with the added bonus of enjoying life as a teenager, away from tennis. Gauff’s future holds ample opportunities for media and sponsor obligations, and, of course, the grind of tour life. But at her age, she needs to surround herself with the right team that allows her to focus on her maturation, and not get consumed by the trappings of being a professional athlete.

Getty Images

All signs are pointing to her continued rise, but it’s dangerous to draw firm conclusions. Tennis has a history of supposedly sure things who became unsure of themselves. Not to mention that there’s an impressive slew of players just a few years older than Gauff who have their own designs on the future. 

At this past French Open, Amanda Anisimova became the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist in more than a decade. Sofia Kenin has come on strong this season, winning three tournaments and beating numerous Top 10 players. Bianca Andreescu has been an absolute giant killer, winning Indian Wells, Toronto and the US Open. 

And then there’s Naomi Osaka, who at 22, already owns multiple majors and has topped the rankings. They all have different game styles and personalities, but they all share the traits of fearlessness, and the desire to be great.

Whether it’s Gauff, or any of her talented peers, one thing seems assured: Serena will have a worthy successor.