PARIS (AP) — Greatness has been expected of Coco Gauff since she was a child, playing in — and winning — junior events. The Floridienne is still young, of course, reaching her first Grand Slam final at Roland-Garros at 18.
After seeing what it takes to be a major champion up close in a 6-1, 6-3 loss in Iga Swiatek, the best ranked at Roland Garros Saturday, Gauff was unhappy with the result, yes, but as determined as ever to keep pushing, to keep improving and to be even more ready next time around.
Because Gauff is sure there will be a next time.
“I feel like, throughout my career, and even at juniors, the reason I had success so early on is that I was able to see that level and then go back and m train and try to reach that level. Now that I’ve seen the level – this level of No. 1 and 35 games (won in a row by Swiatek), I know what I have to do,” Gauff said. “I’m sure I’ll play her in another final and hopefully it will be a different result.”
Gauff, who spent her free time during the tournament playing card games with her parents, was the youngest French Open finalist since Kim Clijsters in 2001, and was trying to become the youngest Grand Slam champion since Maria Sharapova was 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.
It was the 11th major tournament in Gauff’s fledgling career and his first trip past the quarter-finals.
She’s been on everyone’s radar in tennis for quite some time, even before she won the junior title at Roland Garros at 14. This was followed, in 2019, by her big breakthrough at Wimbledon aged 15, becoming the youngest. player to qualify for the women’s draw there, then defeating seven-time Major champion Venus Williams in the first round and placing fourth before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep.
There has been steady progress since – a climb to No. 15 in the rankings (she is now No. 23, but will come to No. 13 after her run in Paris), two WTA titles, 100 tour wins, more than 3 million dollars in prize money – and a desire for more.
“I want to congratulate you, because you are doing an incredible job. I can see that every month you are improving all the time, basically,” Swiatek, 21, told Gauff at the trophy presentation on Saturday. “When I was your age, I was in my freshman year on tour, and I had no idea what I was doing. So you’ll find it and you’ll be there, I’m pretty sure.
The maturity Gauff displays on the court was also seen, whether in her dedication to academics – she celebrated her high school graduation by posing for photos in a cap and dress near the Eiffel Tower ahead of the Paris Open. France – or his desire to express himself on social issues. After his semi-final victory on Thursday, the most important triumph of his career to date, Gauff had the means to write: “Peace. End Gun Violence” on the lens of a television camera in the field, a reference to the recent spate of mass shootings in the United States.
On Saturday, Gauff did not display her best tennis.
Swiatek, who has won his last six tournaments and now has two Roland Garros trophies, wouldn’t allow it.
Gauff had beaten his previous six opponents over the past two weeks a total of 35 times. Against Swiatek, Gauff managed only one break point. Often jostled by the first strikes of Swiatek, Gauff committed 23 unforced errors, against only 14 winners.
“I probably looked like I was freaking out,” said Gauff, who will play the women’s doubles final alongside American Jessica Pegula, “but really it was just that Iga was too good.”
At the end, Gauff cried as she sat in her change chair, then again when she received her second-place material, and later during her press conference. She said there were similar reactions from members of her band, including a younger brother who attended the finale.
“I was just trying to tell him, ‘It’s just a tennis match.’ I’m like, ‘Why are you crying?’ I’m like, ‘I’m crying too, I know. Everybody’s crying,'” Gauff said. “I wanted it so badly for me, and I know they wanted it so badly for me.”
Able to see the big picture and optimistic about his future, Gauff thought the disappointment would pass.
“Tomorrow, or even tonight, we’re going to play cards again,” she said, “and we’re going to laugh and we’ll be fine.”
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