Coco Gauff had announced her arrival three years earlier, and at age 15, she was able to make a dramatic run to the fourth round in the 2019 Wimbledon. This gave her time to reflect about the sudden changes that occurred to her life. In a TIME interview, Gauff spoke about how she arrived at appointments just a little earlier than normal because someone would always ask for a selfie.
Gauff shared that she was still just a kid. With her younger brothers, she continued to hide and seek. Never had she been on a date. After a training session, her dad, Corey began pricing airfares to Australia Open. He was a little anxious about the large financial commitment that would be required for a trip down Under. Candi, Candi’s mother, was there to watch her daughter. Team Coco, at the beginning, was still very much a mom and dad operation.
Despite the whirlwind Gauff—who will play in her first Grand Slam final on Saturday morning, against world No 1 Iga Swiatek for the French Open title—declined to dampen expectations. Her ultimate goal? “To be,” Gauff said at the time, “the greatest.”
One can’t help but feel that Gauff, who turned 18 in March and recently posed with her high school diploma in front of the Eiffel Tower, might just be on her way. She’s the youngest Grand Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova, who won the 2004 Wimbledon at 17. Gauff also made it to the Roland Garros doubles final, becoming the youngest American player in a major title match since Serena Williams, 17 years old, did at the 1999 U.S. Open. Gauff hasn’t dropped a set at Roland Garros this year. She had little trouble with Italy’s Martina Trevisan, an unseeded player, in Thursday’s semifinal. Gauff complained about Trevsian’s loud grunts to the chair umpire early in the match, but the noise never unnerved her; she won 6-3, 6-1.
After the match, Gauff wrote on a camera, “Peace. End gun violence.” She had gotten wind that another mass shooting had taken place in the U.S., this time in Tulsa, Okla. on Wednesday. “For me, it’s kind of close to home,” Gauff said at her press conference afterward. “I had some friends that were a part of the Parkland shooting. I can vividly recall the whole thing, and seeing my friends experience it. They were able make it through it. I just think it’s crazy, I think I was maybe 14 or 13 when that happened, and still nothing has changed.”
Even though she is young, Gauff has never stopped using her platform. She spoke at the 2020 Black Lives Matter rally. If she’s a thorn in the side of the “stick to sports” crowd, so be it.
Since that 2019 Wimbledon, Gauff’s rise wasn’t as meteoric as some may have expected. She’s won a pair of singles titles and worked her way up the rankings: she’s currently 23rd in the world. Naomi Osaka was eliminated in the third round at the 2020 Australian Open. But she’s suffered some tough losses, like a first-round ouster at the 2020 U.S. Open later that pandemic year. Fellow teen Emma Raducanu won a major, at last year’s U.S. Open, against Leylah Fernandez, now 19. Her stardom was overshadowed by other young stars.
There’s no more. Even if Gauff loses to Swiatek on Saturday—a result that’s quite likely, given her experience (Swiatek won Roland Garros in 2020) and current 34-match winning streak—her run Roland Garros run marks a moment of excitement for American tennis. She’s seemed to shake her issues with second serves, allowing her speed and power to shine. The Coco Show, French Open or not is only the beginning.
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