2020 Black History Month:
Celebrating the Next Generation
Victoria Chiesa | February 26, 2020
The long and storied history of tennis in the U.S. features a multitude of significant chapters authored by African-Americans. From the sport’s earliest days through its modern era, countless contributions to tennis’ growth and success have been made by players, coaches and administrators of color. Some helped tear down barriers; some have torn up record books. Several have transcended the sport they helped to build to become true American icons. All have been an inspiration, providing this sport, those who play it and those who revel in it, with a myriad of memorable moments.
As we celebrate Black History Month throughout February, USTA.com recalls some of the most memorable of those important moments; milestones that helped to change the face of this sport—literally and figuratively—and inspire us all to raise our game. Today, we take a closer look at a wave of young American women of color, all aged 18 and under, who have a bright future in the sport.ADVERTISEMENT
From Althea and Zina, to Venus and Serena, American women of color have blazed many trails in professional tennis—and in the 2020s and beyond, a new generation of young players is poised to take up their mantle.
The Williams sisters made winning a tradition while still in their teens, and in 2001, all eyes of the tennis world were on a 21-year-old Venus and a 19-year-old Serena as they made all kinds of Open-era history in the first-ever primetime women's singles final at the US Open.
A half-dozen women, born after that historic night in Flushing Meadows, have nonetheless spent their formative years watching the Williams sisters continue to make history, and may soon be primed to inspire a whole new generation of their own.
Leading the way, fittingly, is Coco Gauff, who currently boasts a WTA ranking inside the Top 50 after a 12-month span that saw her reach the Round of 16 at a pair of Grand Slam tournaments and win her first tour-level title.
Earlier this month, the 15-year-old Floridian earned her first-ever nomination to the U.S. Fed Cup team, and U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi, who once held the distinction of being the youngest-ever woman (14 years, 91 days) to win a match at Wimbledon (1981), was full of praise for the teenager, who made breakthroughs of her own at the All-England Club.
“Coco Gauff is amazing for 15 years old," she mused. "She is so mature, way more mature than when I started (as a pro) at the age of 14. She's one of the nicest young ladies that you'll ever meet. She's got a really good head on her shoulders."
But based on their results so far, several other talented teenagers might be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Gauff on the tour sooner rather than later.
Last fall, Gauff's fellow 15-year-olds Robin Montgomery and Katrina Scott helped lead Team USA to its third consecutive junior Fed Cup title. Montgomery, a left-hander from the Washington, D.C. area, currently boasts a Top-5 world ranking in juniors, having won the prestigious Orange Bowl in December in a "stepping stone" to the professional ranks. She became the third consecutive American woman of color to win it, following Gauff and Whitney Osuigwe.
Younger still is Clervie Ngounoue, who has already turned heads before even entering high school. Ngounoue, a 13-year-old from Washington, D.C., announced herself in October when she won the under-14s competition at the WTA Future Stars tournament in Shenzhen, China, an invitation-only event held in partnership with the WTA Finals, the season-ending event on the women's professional tour.
Among the highlights of Ngounoue's trip to China was the opportunity to meet reigning US Open women's champion Bianca Andreescu, and she also attended the event's gala and draw ceremony. To start 2020, Ngounoue finished as the singles runner-up and doubles champion at the prestigious Les Petits As in February, one of the most elite tennis events for players under the age of 14 in the world, which boasts a roll of honor of past champions that includes Rafael Nadal, Martina Hingis and Kim Clijsters.
While Ngounoue only got her first taste of the WTA in China, a pair of other young talents have already made their presence felt on the professional circuit.
Last summer, Hailey Baptiste, then 17 and also a D.C.-area native, scored her first-ever WTA victory in a stunner against 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys at the Citi Open, her hometown tournament. Born in 2001, Baptiste owns three career USTA Pro Circuit titles, all won since the start of 2019, and is a product of the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) in College Park, Md.
Born a year later in 2002 is Osuigwe, who in 2017 became the first American junior in 28 years to win the girls' singles title at the French Open. A native of Bradenton, Fla., Osuigwe took up the game at the famed IMG Academy, where her father has coached since 1997. She won two USTA Pro Circuit titles last year and has a career-best ranking on the precipice of the WTA's Top 100.