WIMBLEDON, England - Serena Williams says she's a 'big fan' of 15-year-old American qualifier Coco Gauff, who is in the midst of a Cinderella run into the Round of 16 at Wimbledon.
Gauff became the youngest woman to ever qualify for the main draw at Wimbledon last week, and the Florida native has proceeded to become the biggest story of the first week at The Championships. After earning her spot in the main draw, Gauff proceeded to defeat Venus Williams and Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets, before engineering a dramatic third-round win in which she saved two match points to defeat Polona Hercog 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-5 in her Centre Court debut.
The world has been watching Gauff's progress through the first week - her third-round win over Hercog was the most watched match on the BBC after the first five days - and that includes Serena.
Asked if she had any advice to offer the teenager, Serena said Gauff clearly doesn't need any advice.
"I think she's doing everything great," Serena said, after her dominating third-round win over Julia Goerges. "Big fan actually. I am so excited for her. Love her family. I just couldn't feel more proud.
"I would be wrong to step in right now and give her advice. I think she's doing great."
"I think there are some 15-year-olds, like me, who wouldn't know what to do at Wimbledon. Then you have a 15-year-old like Coco who knows what to do. It really depends.
"I think she's definitely on a different level, so I think she's totally capable and ready, to be honest. I just think it just depends. Not every 15-year-old is the same."
Gauff's Wimbledon success, which will see her go from being ranked outside the Top 300 to inside the Top 140 with her Round of 16 result and Top 100 should she defeat former No.1 Simona Halep on Monday, has reopened the debate as to whether teenage success on tour, a common occurrence in the first 25 years of the WTA, is still possible. Gauff is the youngest woman to make the Round of 16 at a Slam since a 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati in 1990.
"I don't know because when I started playing, Hingis was No.1 at 16, she had won Grand Slams," Serena said, when asked how times have changed. "Everyone was winning as a teenager. Capriati had won things. She was 14. I won a Grand Slam, I was 17. It was a ton of teenagers doing things, so it was a lot of pressure. You were almost expected to win.
"If Martina was No.1 at 16, then we were underachieving at 17. It was definitely a ton of pressure for us. It switched somewhere in between where people started winning a little bit later.
"I don't know. Maybe this is a trend back where the players are going to be teenagers and winning again."
Youth success has been a continuing storyline in the 2019 WTA season, which has seen the youngest average age of tournament champions in 10 years. Four titles have been won by teenagers this year. 18-year-old Dayana Yastremska has won two titles this season and is into her first Round of 16 here at Wimbledon. Canada's Bianca Andreescu, 18, won Indian Wells, and 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova won Bogota and made the semifinals of Roland Garros last month. And it was 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova who found herself in the Roland Garros final.
All this while the last three major titles have been won by Naomi Osaka, 21, and World No.1 Ashleigh Barty, 23.
Gauff grew up idolizing both Serena and Venus Williams, confessing that she used to have a Serena poster up on her bedroom wall. As Serena continues her charge towards a record-tying 24th Slam singles title, her legacy lives on in the tour's younger players, who have grown up on a steady diet of the Williams' excellence.
"Honestly, I feel honored that I was on her wall at some point in her life," Serena said. "Soon she'll be on other girls' walls.
"It's nice because it will keep it going from the next generation to next generation."