PARIS — It’s easy to be in a hurry when you reach the fourth round of Wimbledon at 15, beating one of your idols, Venus Williams, in her opening match. It’s easy to be rushed when the sponsors and the platform are already in place, and you’ve heard from the experts and the voice in your own head that you have what it takes to be a champion.
But tennis is a trickier game than most: a mix of physical, technical and psychological with so much time to think between points and serves and so many tournaments, time changes and losses to navigate.
Coco Gauff, even though she is only 18, had to be more patient than she expected. But the young American’s potential and his performance under pressure are starting to converge. On Saturday, she will play her first Grand Slam singles final, against the No. 1 seed, Iga Swiatek, at Roland-Garros for the title and the Suzanne Lenglen Cup.
“There’s a fine line between believing in yourself and almost pushing yourself too hard,” Gauff said Thursday after her semi-final win, 6-3, 6-1, over Martina Trevisan, sounding, as usual, rather older than his age.
Gauff, the youngest Grand Slam singles finalist since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, was comparing her expectations with those she had a season ago when she reached the quarters Roland-Garros final. She found herself unable to handle the pressure and critical points and threw her racquet to the clay in frustration while losing to Barbora Krejcikova, the eventual unranked champion.
“At that time, I wanted it too much,” she said. “Whereas now, I definitely do. Yeah, who wouldn’t? But also, it won’t be the end of the world if it doesn’t happen to me.
The odds, make no mistake, are still heavily stacked against her. Gauff faces the toughest task available in women’s tennis.
Swiatek, 21, extended his winning streak to 34 games in Thursday’s first semi-final by thrashing 20th seed Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-1 in just over an hour.
That scoring and blistering pace are typical of Swiatek, the powerful and increasingly imposing Polish star. She hasn’t lost a match since February and beat Gauff in their two previous matches in straight sets: winning, 7-6(3), 6-3, on clay in the Open semi-finals. last year’s Italy and won, 6-3, 6-1, on hard court in the round of 16 at this year’s Miami Open in March.
“She’s definitely the pre-game favorite on paper,” Gauff said. “But I think going in I’m just going to play free and play my best tennis. I think in a Grand Slam final anything can happen.
Gauff’s ability to extend points with his speed and defensive skills could certainly force Swiatek to make more mistakes than usual. Under Diego Moyano, the veteran coach who joined his team in April, Gauff improved his tactics, according to his father, Corey Gauff, who has been his main coach since childhood.
“Playing to your strengths means not rushing all the time,” Corey Gauff said in a Thursday night interview. He added: “He’s able to communicate to her how he feels on the other side of the net when she does something. He tries to get her to understand why she’s making this decision and what the impact is. And he was pretty effective compared to Dad. We dads tend to command and control, and it doesn’t always work.
But clay remains Swiatek’s favorite canvas. She won the French Open in 2020 aged 19. Gauff lost in the second round of that tournament to Treviso, looking increasingly distraught as his number of double faults increased. She finished with 19. On Thursday, she finished with just two, her lowest total of this Roland Garros.
“She’s learning to manage her emotions and to understand that double faults are part of the game and there’s no need to overreact,” Corey Gauff said.
Although Coco Gauff was only 4-3 on clay this year before Roland Garros, she hasn’t dropped a set in six matches. “I’ll be honest,” she said. “This year, I had not had the best results in this area. So it was not planned at all, really.
Gauff graduated from high school online all year in early spring, celebrating her achievement with a photo taken in front of the Eiffel Tower ahead of the French Open. Corey Gauff thinks it helped her fly higher in Paris.
“That release at the end of high school or college is real,” he said. “She always had work to do, and it’s always on your mind. I feel like this is the first tournament she’s entered without homework.
But she still follows the news, and on Thursday, after beating Trevisan, she crossed red dirt for the now-customary TV camera glass signature and decided, quite spontaneously, she explained, to do a statement on last month’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed.
“Peace. End gun violence,” Gauff wrote, drawing a heart next to her first name.
“It was just a message for people back home to watch and for people around the world to watch,” she said, adding, “I hope this gets into people’s heads at power to hopefully turn things around.”
Gauff said she was influenced by athletes such as former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka, who were outspoken about social and cultural issues. But Gauff’s family also made it clear to her from an early age that she could have significance far beyond the courtroom.
“My dad told me I could change the world with my racquet,” she said. “He didn’t mean that while playing tennis. He meant to speak out on issues like this. The first thing my dad said to me after I came off the court: “I’m proud of you and I love what you wrote on camera.”
Corey Gauff said he first spoke to his daughter about the influence she could have when she was 6 or 7 years old.
“I’m glad she’s aware of what’s going on around her,” he said. “She has a brother who is 8 years old and in primary school. It’s not hard for him to hit home. I’m glad she’s aware of that and brings attention and empathy to it. She doesn’t just hit the tennis ball. She is a citizen of the world.
However, tennis is certainly a priority at Roland Garros. Gauff, seeded 18th, is guaranteed to reach a career-high 13th and could reach 8th if she beats Swiatek. She’s not just aiming for the singles title. She and her partner, Jessica Pegula, are in the women’s doubles semi-finals and will face fellow Americans Taylor Townsend and Madison Keys on Friday.
Gauff’s younger brothers – Cameron, 8, and Codey, 14 – are due to arrive in Paris on Friday morning after traveling from the family home in Delray Beach, Florida.
“They’re coming for the singles final and hopefully the doubles final as well,” Corey Gauff said.
Cameron’s birthday is Sunday.
“He arrives in Paris at 8 and leaves at 9,” said Corey Gauff with a laugh.
Cameron’s big sister has a shot at leaving as a Grand Slam champion.