Coco Gauff and Other Newcomers Are Shaking Up the US Open — and It’s Just What Tennis Needs

Serena Williams has dominated women’s tennis for decades, but there’s a crop of young athletes hot on her heels.

Last night, 15-year-old Cori “Coco” Gauff continued to excite fans at the US Open defeating a tough Timea Babos in three sets. With the win, she became the youngest woman since 1996 to advance to the tournament’s third round.

The gutsy performance from the New Balance-backed athlete sets her up for a matchup against another rising star: 21-year-old Naomi Osaka, who won the US Open last year. The two will face off tomorrow at 7 p.m. ET at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, N.Y.

Also yesterday, 23-year-old Nike athlete Taylor Townsend bested fourth ranked Simona Halep (who is also backed by the Swoosh) in thrilling fashion. Townsend will face her next opponent, Sorana Cîrstea, tomorrow at 11 a.m. ET at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

And although Caty McNally, 17, is no longer competing in the tournament, she won fans over by playing Williams tough in their second round matchup Wednesday. McNally even bested the tennis icon in the first set, winning 7-5.

This is a breakout year for young female tennis players — and it’s exactly what the tennis industry needs.

According to the Tennis Industry Association, participation in the sport among core players — defined as those who play 10 or more times a year — has declined 15% since 2009. And the amount of times people get out and play have decreased by 22%.

But it’s the core players that are driving the $6 billion business. According to the organization’s executive director, Jolyn de Boer, the group accounts for roughly 90% of apparel, shoe and equipment sales, as well as lessons and court time.

To combat this, industry organizations such as the United States Tennis Association are working to attract kids to the sport in hopes to have them on the court for life. The USTA is ramping up its Net Generation program efforts, which aims to bring together players, parents and coaches via a platform to locate and register for tennis programs across the country. Net Generation also grants access to teaching and learning resources and a digital app to lets kids track their training, complete challenges and earn badges for skills mastered.

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