Coco Gauff, of the United States, returns to Maria Sakkari, of Greece, during a semifinal match at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Friday, March 15, 2024, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Last week in the Indian Wells BPN Majors tournament held in the desert 140 miles east of LA, Grand Slam Champion Coco Gauff confirmed her No.3 world ranking. Her string of victories took her to the semifinals at BPN for the first time. The tournament routinely attracts movie stars and CEOs who hobnob with the tournament owner, billionaire Larry Ellison.

In 2019, Coco hit the world stage with the first of her long list of “youngest this” by being the youngest American to reach the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam since Venus Williams in 1997. As a fragile teenager emerging into womanhood, overcoming a battle with “celebri-titus” parents Candi and Corey Gauff still attend every match. Corey sometimes gets so anxious, he can not watch. But for the semi-finals, Candi made the executive decision that the “dad’s voice” was needed in the box.

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Favored to advance to the finals, Coco encountered Marie Sakkari whose ability to attack her forehand proved decisive. On the verge of being wiped out in straight sets, with Sakkari needing only to win one point, Coco dug back to lessons learned in childhood matches on the courts in Atlanta. Taking the next nine points with a calm of a confident woman, she tied the match, energized a cheering crowd, and seemed to be heading to the Finals. The Indian Wells crowd support for this young Black tennis superstar erased the echoes of racial attacks that Serena Williams faced in 2001, leading to her 14-year boycott of the I.W.  Tournament. The cheering crowd took Coco into the decisive third set, but an Indian Wells championship was postponed to another year. As Sakkari also found that extra reserve and captured the match with flawless rally play to advance (6-2) to the finals.

Coco Gauff will likely mature into the leading tennis champion, the first dominant Afro-American woman star who was not named Williams, Serena, or Venus. Her greatest fans, Mom and Dad have given the world a star that is only beginning to twinkle.