The comparisons to Serena Williams started early for Coco Gauff, who won a national tennis tournament at age 8 and became the world’s No. 1 junior player at 14. By the time she beat Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon in 2019—and became the youngest player to reach the fourth round at a Grand Slam since 1996—she was regularly being labeled the future of tennis.
That future may have arrived.
Gauff, now 18, will play for the French Open women’s singles title in Saturday’s final against top-ranked Iga Swiatek, a phenom herself at just 21. The next day, Gauff will take the court alongside fellow American Jessica Pegula in the women’s doubles final against Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.
A win on Saturday would secure $2.4 million for Gauff, who has not dropped a set in singles at Roland Garros and is seeking her first major title; she and Pegula would share another $620,000 with a victory Sunday. Even if she loses both matches, those prizes will be $1.2 million and $310,000 before taxes.
That’s a pretty impressive haul for a player who only recently graduated from high school. But Gauff is already raking in cash, with $3.2 million in career prize money since she turned pro in 2018. And she stands to make much more.
off the court, Forbes estimates she is making at least $4 million annually (before taxes and agents’ fees) from sponsors that include New Balance apparel, Head tennis rackets and Barilla pasta. Over the last three months, she has unveiled partnerships with retailer American Eagle and Autograph, the NFT company co-founded by Tom Brady.
Brands came clamoring early, hoping to lock up a player who followed her success at the junior level by becoming the WTA Tour’s youngest singles champion since 2004 at age 15 and is now the youngest player in the WTA’s top 100, ranked 23rd. In 2019, Forbes reported that Gauff was already making $1 million from endorsements as a 15-year-old.
But her agent, Alessandro Barel Di Sant Albano of Team8, and her parents—father Corey, who coaches her, and mother Candi, who homeschooled her—have declined many of the opportunities that have arisen, taking a long-term approach to Gauff’s career on and off the court. Deals with prestigious brands like Rolex and Microsoft made sense after her 2019 breakout from her, but there is care being taken not to overcommercialize Gauff at this young age or add to the pressure she acknowledged feeling in to 2020 post for Behind The Racquet. Her focus is on tennis, and her newly beefed-up playing schedule, now that she has turned 18 and is no longer subject to WTA restrictions on how many tournaments young players can enter each year.
Even with those limitations, she is already knocking on the door of the world’s highest-paid female athletes, with the cutoff for the top ten set at $5.7 million last year by WNBA star Candace Parker. And Gauff’s ceiling is much higher, especially given that the world’s highest-paid female athlete has been a tennis player every year since Forbes started tracking the data in 1990.
For starters, sponsor deals in tennis typically feature performance incentives on top of the base guarantees, so Gauff could unlock substantial bonuses by winning her first Grand Slam or rising in the rankings. And when she starts expanding her business, watch out. Her engaging personality should appeal to brands, and she has the advantage of being American. That means a large base of sponsors willing to throw their support behind a homegrown talent, especially with Serena Williams nearing the end of her career at 40 and American men still seeking their first Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick won the 2003 US Open.
Gauff has used her French Open platform to call for an end to gun violence, and that advocacy could make her even more appealing to brands. “Social consciousness was probably the sixth- or seventh-biggest issue for brands a year or two ago; now it’s the first or second,” veteran marketing consultant Joe Favorite told Forbes Last year after Naomi Osaka spoke out about mental health and racial justice issues.
The 24-year-old Osaka, a four-time major winner with lucrative ties to Japan, is the highest-paid female athlete ever and made an estimated $59.2 million over the 12 months ending May 1, ranking 19th on Forbes’ annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. Williams, who has won an open-era-record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, was No. 31 with an estimated $45.3 million.
If for no other reason than the uncertainty inherent to sports, the odds are against Gauff catching either of them. But the young ace has surpassed expectations at every turn, and she has a chance to turn in another surprise on Saturday against the heavily favored Swiatek.