As February’s Super Bowl cut to a break, Coco Gauff’s attention began to drift. Watching from the other side of the world from her hotel in Doha, it was getting late when an unexpected commercial caught her interest.

Beyoncé appeared on screen and announced a new album. With no song titles to guide her, Gauff fired up YouTube and began scouring for uploads as the Beyoncé-themed group chat she shares with her friends began to light up.

Gauff didn’t have much luck at the time, but she’ll get answers this week. Beyoncé’s eighth studio album, “Act II: Cowboy Carter,” will be released Friday. It’s the second installment of a planned trilogy. She first dabbled in country music on the 2013 track “Daddy Lessons,” and this time around, Beyoncé’s going all in.

And while the tennis courts of the Miami Open may be a long way from Beyoncé’s Texan stomping grounds, there’s also a frisson of excitement on the Hologic WTA Tour.

Gauff is far from the only member of the WTA BeyHive.

“You could talk forever about how amazing her voice is,” World No.6 Ons Jabeur said. “She just shares a lot of great energy with her crowd and gets you in the vibe.”

And the feeling is mutual.

In 2016, Beyonce and husband Jay Z attended Wimbledon, enjoying the Centre Court view from Serena Williams’ player’s box. Later that year, they were at the US Open. That was the same year Williams was featured in Beyonce’s video for the song “Sorry,” where she instructed the World No.1 at the time to “dance like nobody’s looking.”

The collaboration was a power move aligning two Black women at the tops of their respective fields with each other — but also an opportunity for Williams to be carefree in her performance, in contrast to the iron self-control required on the tennis court.

Anna Kalinskaya, a finalist in Dubai, discovered that the spectacle of Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour provided an experience she would never forget.

“I went to see her in Paris last year during the French Open,” Kalinskaya said. “She had so much energy and she was just shining. For me, she’s one of the best artists.”

Kalinskaya marveled not only at the music. She saw parallels with her own life as a pro athlete, but with even less room for error and “on a bigger stage.”

Storm Hunter, fresh off a 30-hour cross-country odyssey to get to Miami, also pointed out another link between the lifestyles of athletes and singers.

“Their concerts and their schedules, it’s insane,” she said. “Sometimes I do Google their routines, their itineraries, just out of curiosity. You can learn how the high performers, not just sports stars, navigate the world.”

Australian Open semifinalist Dayana Yastremska has grown up with Beyoncé’s music and cites the 2008 single “Halo” — which came out when she was 8 years old — as her favorite.

“First of all, huge respect to her,” Yastremska said in Miami. “Since I am a child, I am listening to her. She made a huge world. When she sings, she’s very sincere. And very open … you can’t really hear [anything] fake. Not in the words, not in the way she sings. She’s just super talented and a legend.”

Yastremska has dabbled in a part-time pop career herself, but demurs when asked about Beyoncé’s influence. “Singing is my hobby. I’m not even close to her.” But the Ukrainian brought that sincerity to her latest single, “Hearts,” released in February. A collaboration with Latvian musician Loopout, whom Yastremska met at an exhibition match for her foundation, it was a means to draw awareness to the ongoing conflict in her country.

“I know people are really tired of the war,” she said. “But it’s another point to remind people of what is going on in Ukraine.”

Beyoncé has also formed a friendship with Naomi Osaka. The Japanese player revealed her fandom of the singer in her first WTA press conference as a 16-year-old back in 2014, and the pair were finally introduced in 2019.

“She just smelled expensive and beautiful,” Osaka said of the first time they met. “She was soft, and she hugged me. I was like, this is what heaven is.”

If someone had told the 16-year-old Osaka that in eight years she would not only attend Beyoncé’s 41st birthday party but also discover a kindred spirit in the pop megastar, she would have been left speechless.

“I have met her a couple of times and found her super kind,” Osaka said in Miami. “I feel like she might be someone that’s also quite introverted, but she can sense other people that are introverted and so she’ll go up to the person.”

But what of Beyoncé’s change of direction? As tennis players know, switching up a winning strategy is a risky business — but the rewards can be great. Hunter points out that stepping outside of her comfort zone is the mark of an “amazing artist,” while Osaka points to the quality of “Daddy Lessons” 11 years ago as grounds for optimism.

Meanwhile “Texas Hold ‘Em,” the lead single from “Cowboy Carter,” has hit No.1 worldwide, suggesting that Beyoncé is succeeding in both bringing country to a new audience and winning over existing country fans.

Gauff and Kalinskaya fit into the former category. Neither would describe themselves as country fans or even especially knowledgeable about the style. Kalinskaya has already been converted. “Texas Hold ‘Em” has been on her daily playlist since its release.

“I just love the rhythm, her voice,” she said. “It gives me a good mood.”

Gauff, who prefers the less twangy single “16 Carriages,” says she is “still learning” about country. However, she’s appreciative of Beyoncé’s overall artistic plan — and has a prediction for the third part of the trilogy.

“A lot of the genres she’s doing were founded by Black people,” Gauff said. “So she’s trying to almost reclaim it and give other artists an opportunity to succeed in that space. My theory is that she’s going to do country, then rock.”

Before that, Gauff is ready for the “Cowboy Carter” stage show, complete with props from the tour she can dust off.

“I already own cowboy boots from Fort Worth,” she said. “I didn’t buy a hat — so I guess I need to do that and make it Beyoncéfied!”


Leave a Reply