PARIS — Coco Gauff sat in her transition chair at Roland-Garros after falling one set away from her first Grand Slam final at 18 — just 18! – and calmly nibbled on chunks of pineapple and other cut fruit, seemingly oblivious to the world.
Her opponent in Thursday’s semi-final at Roland Garros, Martina Trevisan, was taking a medical time-out so her right thigh could be treated and recorded by a trainer. It was the kind of delay that could rattle some players, cause them to calm down, lose momentum, overthink what was at stake.
Not Gauff. Not on this sunny and windy afternoon at Court Philippe Chatrier. When the American arrived in Paris, she celebrated her recent high school graduation by posing for photos in a cap and gown near the Eiffel Tower while holding her diploma. After claiming a 6-3, 6-1 victory over 59th-ranked Trevisan, Gauff will return to this stadium on Saturday to face No. 1 Iga Swiatek for the championship.
“I’m in a mindset now like, ‘It doesn’t matter.’ I mean, I’m going to be happy no matter what. My parents are going to love me no matter what. So I’m just going to go for it like another game,” said 18th-seeded Gauff. “I mean, yeah, it’s a Grand Slam final, but there’s so much going on in the world right now, and especially in the United States, there’s a lot going on right now, so I think it’s not important to stress over a tennis match.’
And then, in a post referencing the recent series of mass shootings in his home country, Gauff wrote in marker on a television camera in the field: “Peace. End gun violence.”
A willingness to speak up on important issues — and a broad view of the world — reflects the kind of maturity that served her well, especially with so much attention from an early age. She won the Roland-Garros junior title at 14. She became the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history, then beat Venus Williams on her way to the fourth round there at 15.
Gauff, who turned 18 in March, is the youngest woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Maria Sharapova, 17, at Wimbledon in 2004 and the youngest American to reach a major final since Serena Williams, 17, at the 1999 US Open.
She is also the youngest runner-up at the clay major since 2001, when Kim Clijsters was runner-up the day after her 18th birthday.
“I’m a bit in shock right now,” Gauff said with a laugh after using his ever-better forehand to open up the field and his terrific backhand to seal points against Trevisan. “I didn’t know how to react at the end of the match. I have no words to describe how I feel.”
Gauff has won all 12 sets she has contested over the past two weeks. She didn’t have to walk the hardest road to get here: due to all sorts of surprising results and early exits from the best players in the group, she only faced one seed until now No. 31 Elise Mertens.
Trevisan is a 28-year-old left-hander who entered the day on a 10-match winning streak, including her first career WTA title in Rabat, Morocco, a week before the match began at Roland Garros. She also beat Gauff the only time they played before – in the second round in Paris two years ago.
But Gauff is nothing if not a learner and a relentless, someone who looks better and better with a racquet in hand every time she steps onto the court. A big part of that, perhaps bigger than his fast serves which reached 115 mph (185 km/h) on Thursday, is his unearthly poise, an old soul’s ability to see an obstacle and not be discouraged.
Early on, a Trevisan shot landed near a baseline and was set to go 30-across. Gauff asked chair umpire Marijana Veljovic to come take a closer look, and the pair engaged in a long discussion, both pointing to the landing spot. Gauff crouched down to inspect as some spectators whistled and scoffed, as they often do here when players challenge a decision.
A handful of boos then descended on Gauff as she headed to the net to check a mark after one of her backhands landed wide in a game in which Trevisan broke to make 3-all.
Reckless, Gauff came back to lead 4-3, hitting a backhand winner that knocked mum and dad out of their seats in the players’ box. The match would go on for about 50 more minutes, but the result would never again be in doubt.
“Honestly, I wasn’t nervous coming in today. I wasn’t nervous at all, which is a surprise,” Gauff said. “The only time I’m a little nervous is maybe in the morning. I go for a walk in the morning to clear my head, and after that I feel good.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.