FAIRLEA, W.Va. — Like so many other people, Ray Lee has watched Wimbledon closely over the last week.
And like so many others, the Greenbrier East High School football coach is quite captivated over 15-year-old sensation Cori ‘CoCo’ Gauff, who faces Simona Halep on Monday for a spot in a quarterfinal.
Gauff’s mother, Candi Gauff, is Lee’s niece.
“Our whole family is connected. We support one another. If you asked her, she knows who I am, where I live, all of that,” Lee said. “She’s my great niece, but we’re all right there and connected together.”
The teenager was already the youngest player to qualify for Wimbledon in the Open era, but she’s left a far greater impression.
In her opening match of the major, Gauff defeated one of the sport’s icons, Venus Williams, in straight sets. She followed it up with another straight-set victory in the second round against Magdalena Rybarikova.
On Friday, Gauff battled back for a thrilling three-set win over Polona Hercog. Hercog won the first set and led 5-2 in the second set, but squandered separate match points and was ultimately eliminated.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic for the experience,” Lee said. “Whether she wins Wimbledon or not, she’s a winner already for making it this far and representing herself, her mom and dad and the entire family the way she has.”
Gauff resides in Delray Beach, Fla. and is home-schooled. Lee says he last saw Gauff in February at a family reunion and estimated he sees her “two or three times” a year in Florida.
“She’s a typical 15-year-old, playing with her cousins and my grandchildren,” Lee said. “It’s pleasing to see the way she handles herself.”
While Gauff’s victories at Wimbledon have been the story of the Grand Slam event to this point, Lee believes she’s been set up for success for some time.
Her father, Corey, was a basketball player at Georgia State and Candi was a hurdler and heptathlete at Florida State. Gauff’s grandfather, Eddie Odom Jr., was roomates with Dusty Baker when both played in the Washington Senators farm club system.
“She comes from a competitive atmosphere,” Lee said. “Everyone in our family that participated in sports has a competitive edge. We want to win and prepare to win.”