ATLANTA — One of the greatest players in professional sports right now started playing right here in Atlanta.
Coco Gauff lights up the women’s tennis circuit and has inspired millions of girls around the world.
But her former coach tells 11Alive her massive success was driven by an even greater determination.
Jewel Peterson said she knew Gauff was always going to be a star.
Peterson would pick her up from school in 2nd grade and take her straight to the court for three hours four days a week.
Peterson has been playing tennis her whole life and says she knows what it takes to succeed, she knew that Gauff had it.
Peterson said no matter what, she wants people to love tennis as much as she does.
“First, enjoy the game because this game is going to make you really upset,” she said.
She first picked up a racket when she was four years old and says she’s grateful for all of the athletes she had to look up to.
“When we talk about Black women in tennis, there is a long history, we can go all the way back to Athea Gibson, to my mentors, now Venus and Serena,” she said.
She says seeing these athletes compete at the highest level of the game is inspiring the young players in her coaching academy.
“Now they have the mindset that ‘because they did it, I can.’ So that’s a huge thing to see the women who trail blazed and who came before them,” she said.
Peterson was a pro athlete herself, playing on the WTA, before she moved into coaching.
She started giving lessons to Gauff when the tennis superstar was just 8 years old.
“She was a coach’s dream! She would get in the car and fall asleep because she was 8 and that’s what kids do! But as soon as we got to the tennis center she hopped out, ready to go,” she said.
She’s watching Gauff’s career soar with pride and has been even more proud of the young athlete for using her platform to speak out about social justice.
“Athletes are now celebrities when it comes to what you wear, what you eat. We are all taking cues from them about everything else, why not about social injustice,” she said.
And she’s proud of Gauff for supporting other young athletes that are speaking out about their own struggles with social issues and mental health.
“Simone Biles, cases with Naomi Osaka, talking about mental health, and this is really important, we want to make sure athletes get what they need for all of the pressure,” she said.
While she doesn’t see Coco three hours a day on the court anymore, she says she’s always cheering her former student on.
“I think she’s going to go extremely far; I think she’s going to be No. 1 in the world someday,” she said.
And she believes she’s going to be No. 1 because she never gives up.
Gauff didn’t get to compete at the summer Olympics because she tested positive for COVID before the games. Peterson said that it was just a minor setback for her and she knows she’ll come back even stronger for the next games.