By: Dale King Contributing Writer
When Delray Beach tennis superstar Cori “Coco” Gauff steps onto the court, she has one thought in mind: To win.
Even as she faced her idol, Venus Williams, on the other side of the net in the opening round of the Wimbledon tournament on July 1, the 15-year-old didn’t cut her fellow South Floridian any slack. Coco defeated her legendary opponent in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, and went on to take down two other racquet foes before succumbing to the No. 7 seed and eventual winner, Simona Halep, in the globally famous, England-based tourney.
Coco’s victories, her humility, her inspirational appeal to other young athletes and her obvious chances for an award-winning career on tennis courts around the world drew hundreds of friends, fans, relatives and admirers to Pompey Park in Delray Beach on July 20 for a festive “Welcome Home” celebration.
Healthier Delray Beach hosted the festivity in partnership with the city of Delray Beach. The ceremony was led by Coco’s aunt, Joi Odom Grant, and included appearances by and comments from Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia; Coco’s pastor from St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Boynton Beach, Jovan T. Davis; Coco’s grandmother, Yvonne Odom and Kenya Madison, senior project director of Heathier Delray Beach.
“I’m overwhelmed by all the people who came out to support me,” said the young star of the court who stands a formidable 5-foot-9 ½. “I thought because it rained, some people would stay away. But the gym is jam-packed.”
A quick, but mighty rainstorm forced the festivities inside, and away from the tennis courts where Coco’s career began and where she still plays. The Atlanta native, who now resides in Delray Beach, with her family – father, Corey; mother, Candi Odom Gauff, and brothers Codey, 9, and Cameron, 6 – began to train at the Mouratoglou Academy at age 10, working with Serena Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou.
Athletics is important to the Gauff family. Her dad played basketball at Georgia State University and later worked as a health care executive. Her mother was a track and field athlete at Florida State University and also worked as an educator.
Just steps from the tennis courts in Pompey Park are the baseballs fields named after her grandfather. Grandmother Yvonne serves on the steering committee for Healthier Delray Beach, a community initiative focused on improving Delray Beach’s behavioral health.
Addressing the cheering crowd while standing at a podium in front of a banner that said, “Welcome Home from Wimbledon,” Coco said she saw “a lot of familiar faces” in the audience and urged them to “keep dreaming. Keep reaching for the stars. Don’t give up.”
Commenting on her own future, Coco said, “I think I can go as far as I want to by working hard and staying focused.”
Moments before, speaking from that same podium, Pastor Davis pointed out that while Coco has been working on her athletic prowess, she has also maintained her faith in God, and “He was glad his child didn’t forget him.”
The pastor from the Boynton Beach church also stressed Coco’s courage in challenging Venus Williams at Wimbledon. “As she faced her idol, she had fear, but overcame it. Coco displayed hope on the outside and confidence on the inside.”
He added: “We are happy for what God has handed her. He is not done with her yet.”
And Coco isn’t finished for the year. She said she plans to take part in the U.S. Open tournament which starts Aug. 26 in New York.