Cori Gauff hits the ball at a practice session at Wimbledon on June 29, 2019 in London.
As Wimbledon begins, 15-year-old tennis prodigy Cori Gauff is the youngest qualifier ever at the event in the Open Era. Gauff, born on March 13, 2004, begins play in the main draw against five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams, who is nearly double her age.
Gauff’s qualification follows 17-year-old compatriot Amanda Anisimova’s surprising run to the French Open last month, where she became the youngest semifinalist in the event since 2006.
In the spirit of Gauff and Anisimova’s recent rise, here are some of the top Wimbledon performances we’ve seen by U.S. youngsters over the years, both before and during the Open Era.
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Sidney Wood (1927): At just 15 years old in 1927, Wood became the youngest player ever at the time to play in a Grand Slam tournament when he competed in the French Championships and then Wimbledon. Four years later, at 19, he would go on to become the only player to win Wimbledon without competing in the final; his opponent Frank Shields withdrew due to an ankle injury.
John McEnroe (1977): An unknown at the time, 18-year-old McEnroe came out of the qualifier and made it all the way to the Wimbledon semifinals before losing to Jimmy Connors in four sets. He soared from No. 264 in the world to No. 71 after recording the first-ever Grand Slam semifinal run from a qualifier. He would go on to become one of the greatest grass-court players of all-time with three singles titles and five doubles titles at Wimbledon.
Paul Annacone (1984): After completing his third year of college tennis at the University of Tennessee, 21-year-old Annacone made his first Grand Slam main draw at Wimbledon. Despite having to go through qualifiers, he made it all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to Connors. He ultimately peaked at No. 12 in the world and then had even more success as a coach, guiding Peter Sampras and Roger Federer to Grand Slam titles and No. 1 world rankings.
Jennifer Capriati (1991): At 15 years and 96 days old, she became the youngest player ever to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon. She stunned nine-time champion Martina Navratilova in straight sets in the quarterfinals. As the Washington Post put it: “A 15-year-old from Florida with a floppy ponytail and oversized white tennis culottes rudely invaded Navratilova's beloved turf … Although the 10th-grader from Florida still has knock knees, a baby face and a penchant for Valley Girl-speak, she was heralded as a phenom before she had hit a ball on the women's circuit.” Capriati would later win Olympic gold in 1992, as well as three Grand Slam singles titles.
Venus Williams (2000): At 20 years old, Williams, with her “Paul Bunyan backswing” according to a New York Times article from 2000, won her first of seven Grand Slam singles titles on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. At the same time, she became the first African-American woman to win Wimbledon since Althea Gibson in 1958 and, as her sister Serena won the US Open the year prior, they became part of the first set of sisters to each own a Grand Slam title.
Who Could Add Their Name To This List In 2019?
Cori Gauff has already added her name to the history books by merit of becoming the youngest Wimbledon qualifier ever, and her Grand Slam debut could become even more memorable if she’s able to upset 39-year-old Venus Williams in the first round. She’s one of three U.S. teenagers in the women’s singles draw, along with Amanda Anisimova, 17, and Caty McNally, 17.
Anisimova, who is seeded 25th after her dream run at Roland-Garros, begins Tuesday against Romania’s Sorana Cîrstea. McNally, who came through the qualifiers, was ousted in one of the tournament’s first matches Monday against Great Britain Heather Watson.
One other name to watch is 20-year-old Sofia Kenin, a 2014 Youth Olympian who is coming off her best Grand Slam performance of her young career when she reached the fourth round at Roland-Garros. Seeded 27th at Wimbledon, she’s already advanced to the second round, where she’ll face Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska.
Kenin and Anisimova join Sloane Stephens (9), Serena Williams (11) and Madison Keys (17) as the seeded American women.
There’s no teen spirit among the U.S. men this month, but three 21-year-olds could make a splash, led by Frances Tiafoe. Long seen as one of the next big names on the U.S. men’s side, Tiafoe reached the quarterfinals in Australia and has improved each of the past three years at Wimbledon, reaching the third round in 2018. He’ll have to get past Italy’s Fabio Fognini, the 12 seed, in the first round Tuesday.
Taylor Fritz is already competing in his fourth Wimbledon main draw and 13th Grand Slam, and he’ll aim to reach the fourth round for the first time, starting with a match against the Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych Monday.
Reilly Opelka already got his first win out of the way in his first Wimbledon main draw, beating Germany’s Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in straight sets Monday to set up a second-round meeting with 22nd-seeded Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland. Opelka got his first Grand Slam win earlier this year in Australia when he upset fellow American John Isner in the first round. Isner, at No. 9, is the only seeded U.S. man at Wimbledon.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.