In her dazzling rise from tennis prodigy to global star, Coco Gauff has racked up the superlatives. At 13, she was the youngest player to ever reach the U.S. Open girls’ final. At 15, she was the youngest-ever qualifier at Wimbledon in modern history, where she defeated Venus Williams.
Now 18, Gauff is currently ranked No. 1 in doubles and No. 12 in singles, and has become the youngest top 50 player in the world.
But Gauff is equally impressive off the court. She channels her enormous fame toward social good, from supporting her small hometown in Florida to speaking powerfully at a Black Lives Matter event. She’s a thoughtful role model, entrepreneur and fashion influencer — all on display with the release of her new signature shoe just ahead of her appearance in the U.S. Open.
The ‘90s-inspired Coco CG1 shoe is a major milestone in Gauff’s young career, placing her among the elite, few athletes who have their own sneaker. While still in high school, Gauff worked with New Balance to design the mid-top, vintage-looking shoe with vibrant colors and personal motifs inspired by her life.
“I am so excited for everyone to finally see it,” Gauff says. “I don’t think it has hit me how monumental this moment is. It will truly be surreal to see people wearing my signature shoe.”
For two years, Gauff squeezed design meetings between training, homework and travel with help from her tech tools. A Microsoft partner since 2019, she used her Surface laptop to switch from attending online classes to looking at training data to taking business calls.
Through video calls on Microsoft Teams, she was able to share colorful mood boards, watch the shoe take shape and fully collaborate on the design process even though she was working in Florida during the pandemic and the team of designers was in Boston.
To kick things off, the group held a large Teams meeting that Gauff projected on a big screen in the sports bar her dad owned. The technology enabled her to see colors, materials and inspirational fashion photos, as well as ask questions and give feedback.
“I don’t think the meeting would have been as successful if we didn’t have that capability,” she says. “The New Balance team made the whole process really fun. They wanted the shoe to truly be mine. They brought so many ideas, suggestions and helpful insights not only on the design side, but the performance side as well.”
The collaboration resulted in a technical, stylish tennis shoe full of personal details. One of the initial colorways, Pompey, is named after the park where Gauff learned to play tennis. The vibrant blend of pink, purple and orange reminds her of sunsets in Miami.
The shoe’s left toe features the location coordinates of Pompey Park, while the right toe contains her dad’s motto, “You can change the world with your racket.” Gauff’s signature appears on the tongue, her brothers’ names are on the laces, and images of a basketball and a winged foot honor her parents’ college sports. (Her dad played basketball; her mom ran track).
“Coco is an incredible partner on the court and off,” says Evan Zeder, New Balance head of Tennis Sports Marketing. “She had great ideas that not only fed the creative juices of our designers but allowed her shoe to really stand out on the shelf.”
The work was part of Gauff’s emerging influence and expression on issues ranging from fashion to business to advocacy. Last year, she partnered with Microsoft to help expand computer education for kids at a nonprofit in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida. As a full-time remote student and an athlete who analyzes biometric data to improve her game, Gauff understood the power of digital technology in creating opportunities.
She also loves giving back to her hometown, which has long supported her with celebrations at Pompey Park and gatherings at her dad’s bar (which closed during the pandemic).
So Gauff was excited to support the nonprofit Achievement Centers for Children and Families with technology. She was especially thrilled to surprise kids during a coding workshop through a special appearance on Microsoft Teams.
“I love supporting my local community because I can really see an impact,” she says. “Everyone in Delray has supported me from the beginning, so any chance I can give back, I do.”
Gauff’s stature is also growing in fashion, where she not only wears New Balance — an endorsement partner since she was 14 — but also contributes ideas on design. In addition to her signature shoe, Gauff released her first apparel collection with the company last year, imbuing it with her passion for street style, ‘90s fashion and bold colors.
“I love how fashion is a form of self-expression,” she says. “I absolutely think it is a way to express your creativity and vibrancy. Lately, I have been picking my outfits out based on what shoe I want to wear that day.”
Off the court, Gauff has emerged as a powerful voice of her generation on racial justice, gun violence and LGBTQIA+ rights. Inspired by Venus and Serena Williams and her dad’s encouraging quote, she takes her position as a young, Black, female leader seriously and wants to inspire others.
“I had so many great role models when I was growing up and if I can be that for young fans today, then I see that as a privilege,” she says. “I always try to use my platform for good and bring attention to issues that are important to me.”
At the same time, Gauff is a down-to-earth teen who recently graduated from high school and is beloved by fans when she talks about trying to get her driver’s license or posts joyous cap-and-gown photos after her high school graduation.
“I try and be as real and relatable as possible,” she says. “I want people to know that I am just like them. It is OK to be happy, sad, to make mistakes, to celebrate the little and big wins. It all started with a dream, and if you continue to dream big and work hard, you can do great things.”
Top photo: Coco Gauff wears her signature shoe in the Pompey colorway. (Photo courtesy of New Balance)