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Coco Gauff's Paris education continues after Roland Garros final defeat to Iga Swiatek
Despite Saturday's outcome, the 18-year-old will likely experience happier moments in the city she loves the most based on what's already been shown at this stage of her career.
Published Jun 04, 2022
HIGHLIGHTS: Gauff falls to Swiatek in major singles final debut
Paris is Coco Gauff’s favorite city, Gauff most appreciative of its architecture, food and history. Over the course of the last two weeks, the 18-year-old Gauff has made significant history of her own in the City of Light, becoming the youngest player to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Maria Sharapova went that far at Wimbledon in 2004.
While Sharapova won that day 18 years ago, Gauff lost Saturday, beaten in 68 minutes by Iga Swiatek, 6-1, 6-3. Soon after, Gauff sat on the bench and began to cry. Thanking her team during her runner-up speech, Gauff said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get this one today.”
But of course, she had nothing to apologize for. If Gauff’s tears were a sign of sadness for falling one victory short of an ideal outcome, they also revealed the passion and commitment that have long made her a first-rate competitor.
I first witnessed Gauff’s fighting skills up-close five years ago. In the 2017 US Open girls’ final, the 13-year-old Gauff took on Amanda Anisimova. Gauff that day fought off nine match points before losing. The next year, at Roland Garros, I sat courtside to watch Gauff rally from 0-3 down in the third versus Caty McNally and win the girls’ final, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1). Those were the kind of tenacious efforts that set the table for what’s made Gauff a successful pro.
But nothing could prepare Gauff for what she faced today versus Swiatek. In rally after rally, Gauff lost the real estate battle. Smothered by Swiatek’s movement, power and precision, Gauff committed 23 unforced errors and was able to hit only 14 winners. Said Gauff, “But strategy-wise, I mean, going in, honestly it was tough to come up with something [for] someone [who] hasn't lost in a while. So I think my coach and I, he put a scouting report together against her and I tried my best to follow it. But obviously, you can't do everything that you plan on the court.”
Gauff also is aware that tennis is merely a part of a bigger world. Following her semifinal win over Martina Trevisan, Gauff wrote these words on the courtside TV camera: “Peace. End gun violence.”
“I think in general, I think using sports as a platform is important,” said Gauff. “I feel like, I don't know how many people watch the final or how many people watch my semifinal match, but I'm sure it's in the hundreds of thousands, so that message reached that many people. Between all the retweets and all that, it reaches even more people. I think that it's important that we mention these things. I even saw some messages, ‘Oh, writing something isn't going to end it.’ I agree. It's not about writing a message just to end it, it's not going to stop on the spot, I agree. But for me, it's about influencing people and influencing the leaders that are in office and leaders around the world maybe to hear that message.”
Gauff’s social consciousness earned high praise from Billie Jean King. In Paris this year to mark the 50th anniversary of her 1972 Roland Garros title run, King this afternoon said, “I love the fact that Coco uses tennis as a platform for social change and to help others. Of course, do I like that? Of course I like that. I always want every generation, both men and women, to step up, because sports is politics. Politics is sport.”
So it was that today was today. “Yeah, I'm super proud of myself,” said Gauff. “Feeling a lot of emotions right now. A mix of happiness and sadness. I'm going to take this experience and hopefully learn from it and get better.”
But tomorrow would be tomorrow, an instant opportunity for Gauff to apply recent lessons. Sunday morning, Gauff will play the women’s doubles final, partnered with Jessica Pegula versus Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia. “I don't know what my happiest moment has been,” said Gauff. “Hopefully it will be tomorrow if we can win in doubles. Hopefully that will be the happiest moment.” Based on what Gauff has already shown by this stage of her career, she’ll likely experience many more happy moments in the city she loves the most.