Coco Gauff of the United States prays after her match against Aryna Sabalenka in the women’s singles final of the U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York Sept. 9. OSV News photo/Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Tennis champ praying, not ‘taking it all in’

By  Joe Burkuras, Catholic News Agency
  • September 21, 2023

After 19-year-old Coco Gauff won her first Grand Slam title at the women’s tennis championship in the U.S. Open on Sept. 9, she dropped to her knees, put her elbows on the bench, clasped her hands and brought them to her forehead with her eyes closed.

To many watching it was clear that the first American teenager to win the major since Serena Williams won in 1999 had paused her celebration to pray to God.

That’s why many online, including pro-football Hall of Famer Tony Dungy, took issue with the way ESPN’s SportsCenter described Gauff’s actions following the match.

“@CocoGauff took a moment to soak it all in after winning her first Grand Slam title,” SportsCenter wrote on X along with a video of her praying.

Dungy, an NFL analyst and outspoken Christian, tweeted in response to SportsCenter, “I hate to break this to you SportsCenter but Coco Gauff was not ‘soaking it all in’ at this moment. She was praying.”

He added, “She has been very open about her Christian faith in the past. It seems pretty obvious what she is doing here.”

Dozens of comments on the post echoed the same sentiments.

“Praying seems more likely,” one user said.

“That’s not ‘soak it all in,’ that was a thanksgiving prayer to God,” another user said.

“Here’s a #protip for journalists everywhere, both sports and news: It’s OK to publicly acknowledge that people pray. There is nothing wrong with prayer; you won’t offend anyone by merely describing the facts as you observe them. You might even try it yourself sometime,” another user said.

Dungy was right. Gauff has been very outspoken about her faith in the past.

When asked about the role faith has played in her tennis career at her award ceremony, she said, “It’s been so important” and that she’s “so blessed.”

Commenting again on her post-match prayer, Gauff said in a Monday interview on NBC’s Today show: “I was just saying thank you and I understood like all the tough times were just to make that moment even sweeter. I think if it came easy, I wouldn’t feel as appreciative as I did in that moment.”

After beating Maria Sakkari of Greece for the championship in the Mubadala Citi DC Open in August, Gauff said in a video posted by The Tennis Letter: “I want to thank my Father God for this. After losing first round Wimbledon it was a tough situation. A lot of prayer, a lot of support from my church family. So thank you to Him and those who support me.”

Following her win in the final of the 2023 Cincinnati Masters in the same month, Gauff thanked her “Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” at the trophy ceremony, according to Tennis Infinity.

Gauff, who bested 25-year-old Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, fell on the ground in tears after winning her first Grand Slam title.

On the men’s side of the U.S. Open, Serbian Novak Djokovic, whom some are hailing as the greatest men’s player of all time, won his 24th major championship, the most of any male player ever.

Djokovic, 36, is an Orthodox Christian who often dons a wooden cross around his neck and has been seen blessing himself during matches.

Outspoken about his faith in Christ, Djokovic said in a Monday interview with CBS Mornings that he was thinking “God is great” after his victory in the U.S. Open.

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