Dubai: I feel honoured, says Coco after making TIME Women of the Year list

The US Open champion, who is playing at the Dubai Tennis Championships, has also raised her voice for the people suffering in the Gaza conflict


Rituraj Borkakoty

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Coco Gauff of the US celebrates after beating Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. — AFP
Coco Gauff of the US celebrates after beating Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. — AFP

Published: Thu 22 Feb 2024, 7:23 AM

Showing a level of maturity that belied her age, 19-year-old Coco Gauff absorbed all the pressure against Karolina Pliskova, her hard-hitting opponent, and a lengthy argument with the chair umpire over a contentious call to move into the quarterfinals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

While the US Open champion moved into the last eight after a stirring fightback to beat Pliskova, a former world number one and a two-time Grand Slam finalist, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, world number one Iga Swiatek was in cruise control, recording a smooth 6-1, 6-4 win over Elina Svitolina.

But the day certainly belonged to Gauff who also made it to the prestigious TIME Women of the Year list on Wednesday.

A strong advocate for racial equality who raised her voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Gauff never lost her composure and poise when she argued with Pierre Bacch over a poor call from the French chair umpire in the second set.

Serving at 4-2 in the second set, Gauff’s serve was called out by the umpire, but the American challenged the call and the replays showed the ball was in.

Pliskova had missed the return, but the umpire asked Gauff to go for a first serve again.

The world number three felt she should have been awarded the point and made a strong case for it only for the umpire to stick to his position.

Gauff returned and showed nerves of steel to serve out the game before winning the second and third sets to reach the quarters.

“I don't usually advocate for that hard for things unless I'm hundred per cent sure. I don't want to get the reputation with the refs from US Open to here,” she said referring to a previous incident with an umpire at the US Open.

While a berth in the Dubai quarterfinals after a disappointing early exit in Doha last week gave her reasons to smile, finding a place on the list of TIME Women of the Year list gave her an incredible sense of joy.

“For me, I like to say I'm more than a tennis player. Especially in this day and age, I will say growing up in tennis, coming from the lineage like Billie Jean King, Venus Williams, Althea Gibson, I feel like this sport is very popular in advocating for equality and justice. I feel comfortable doing that,” said the rising star who has also raised her voice for the people suffering in the on-going Gaza conflict.

“Growing with my family, my family history, I feel like that's just something I knew, whether I was going to be a tennis player or not, even if I was a kid in a high school, a regular high school, I would probably be part of some club or something to that degree. I just feel like that's something I've been passionate about since I was little.”

But Gauff, who first made headlines as a 15-year-old by reaching the Wimbledon last 16 as a qualifier, has yet to see the TIME list.

“It means a lot. I feel very honoured. I don't know who else is part of the list. I'm going to look at it now. I'm sure it's among some amazing women,” she said.

“I don't think I was expecting that, to be honest. When it was brought to my attention, I don't know, I wasn't expecting it. It's really cool. I'm excited.”

Gauff will return to Dubai centre court on Thursday for her quarterfinal clash with Anna Kalinskaya, who stunned world number nine Jelena Ostapenka 6-4, 7-5.

Meanwhile, Swiatek was in top form as she avenged her 2023 Wimbledon defeat to Svitolina, a two-time Dubai Champion.

Iga Swiatek celebrates a point.
Iga Swiatek celebrates a point.

"I really wanted to improve my focus compared to yesterday," said Swiatek.

"I'm happy I didn't lose my focus and I remembered what I have to do and it worked. So I was a little bit calmer than I was yesterday."

Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova also entered the quarterfinals with an easy 6-2, 6-2 win over 12th seed Liudmilla Samsonova.

Sorana Cirstea of Romania ended Donna Vekic’s campaign with a dramatic three-set win (3-6, 6-3, 7-5) and Jasmine Paolini of Italy set up a quarterfinal clash with fourth seed Elena Rybakina by beating Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-2.

The 28-year-old was optimistic of her chances against Rybakina who won 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 against Poland’s Magdalena Frech.

“Yeah, I feel really confident,” she said.

“I don't think about my opponent’s ranking, I just think about what I have to do on the court. I'm really confident and looking forward to the next match.”

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