Gauff, 19, defeated Laura Siegemund in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday, but only after challenging the umpire over her opponent’s apparent rule violations. After defeating Mirra Andreeva on Wednesday, she will go head-to-head with Belgium’s Elise Mertens on Friday.
During Monday’s match, Gauff approached umpire Marijana Veljovic and criticized Siegemund’s sluggish play.
“She’s never ready when I’m serving,” Coco said about Siegemund. “She went over the clock like four times, and you gave her a time violation once. How is this fair?”
Gauff said she’d been quiet the whole match but had to speak up because things got “ridiculous.”
“I don’t care what she’s doing on her serve,” Gauff said, “but on my serve she has to be ready.”
In a post-match interview, Gauff stood by her comments to the umpire, saying she exercised patience in her response.
“I was really patient the whole match. She was going over the time since the first set. I never said anything. I would look at the umpire, and she didn’t do anything,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “Then obviously the crowd started to notice that she was taking long, so you would hear people in the crowd yelling, ‘Time!'”
Gauff’s actions resonated with many, both in the crowd and on social media, who applauded her for advocating for herself. Some called out a pattern of overt criticism and unfair judgment faced by Black women tennis players in the U.S. Open, drawing parallels to the experiences of athletes like Venus Williams, Serena Williams, and Naomi Osaka.
“Coco Gauf had to only play the match but also check the ref , reinforce the rules, and advocate for herself while her opponent, Laura Siegemund, repeatedly broke or ignored the rules, but sure, lets focus on Laura’s tears in a feeble attempt to make Coco a bully,” said one comment.
“Is it just me, or has it become a pattern for Black women tennis players to get overly criticized, unfairly judged, and brushed off every time we have the U.S. Open now? Venus, Serena, Naomi, and now Coco,” read another.
In a press conference after her win, Gauff said she met former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama, who lauded her for standing up for herself.
“[The former first lady] did say it’s good to speak up for myself, so I think she was happy I stood up for myself,” Gauff said.
Gauff’s match with Mertens is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET.