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US teen Gauff says Serena ‘can inspire many more generations’

US teen star Coco Gauff, inspired to play tennis by Serena Williams, said Tuesday she was shocked to hear about the impending retirement plans of the 23-time Grand Slam champion.

But 11th-ranked Gauff believes Williams, who said Tuesday the “countdown has begun” to her departure from tennis, has left a legacy that can inspire another generation of superstars.

“The legacy that she has left through her tennis career is something that I don’t think any other player can probably touch,” Gauff said. “It is something that can inspire many more generations.

“I grew up watching her — that’s the reason why I play tennis.”

Williams became an African-American icon in a mostly white sport, just as Gauff is starting to do with two titles at age 19, and the teen reminded fans that Williams is far from fading away even if her days in competitive tennis are nearing an end at age 40.

“I mean, she’s not dead but people are talking about it like she’s dying,” Gauff said. “She’s just moving onto different things.”

Gauff spoke after reaching the second round of the WTA Toronto Masters with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over compatriot Madison Brengle.

After having watched Williams and her sister Venus while growing up, Gauff said she dreams of being drawn against her idol next week at Cincinnati or in the US Open.

“I’m a little bit sad because I’ve always wanted to play her,” Gauff said of Serena. “So I’m hoping that my draw in Cincinnati or US Open or even here can work out so we can play each other. That’s just one of my goals.”

Gauff realized Serena’s retirement will mark the end of an era, one she has dominated since winning her first major title at the 1999 US Open.

“I knew it was coming eventually,” Gauff said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be this US Open or the next one. It’s not really shocking but almost shocking news… she has just been playing forever, my whole life.”

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