Coco Gauff was all class on and off the court in reaching the French Open final, but not before accusing her rival of going too far.
Coco Gauff became the youngest Grand Slam finalist in 18 years at the French Open and used her landmark performance to demand action on mass shootings in the United States by writing “peace, end gun violence” on a courtside TV camera.
American star Gauff, 18, will face world number one Iga Swiatek in the final on Saturday after defeating Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-1 in her semi-final.
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Before penning her plea for gun control at home, she insisted that recent tragedies mean she will treat victory or defeat in the championship match with equal equanimity.
“Yeah it’s a Grand Slam final but there are so many things going on in the world, especially in the US — I think it’s not important to stress over a tennis match,” she said in her on-court TV interview.
Gauff was talking just hours after a gunman killed at least four people at a hospital building in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the latest in a string of mass shootings across the United States in recent weeks.
The killings come as Texas families bury their dead after a school shooting left 19 young children dead just eight days earlier.
Winning players at the French Open are invited to write messages on the courtside TV camera. Usually they are lighthearted, often bland declarations.
However, Gauff seized her chance in front of a global TV audience, hoping that her gun control message will “get into the heads of people in office to hopefully change things”.
“The first thing my dad said to me after I got off court, I’m proud of you and I love what you wrote on the camera,” she said.
Gauff said she had not planned to write the message should she have won the match on Roland Garros’ showpiece Philippe Chatrier Court.
“It just felt right in that moment and to write that. I woke up this morning and I saw there was another shooting, and I think it’s just crazy.”
Gauff hoped that being in Europe will help get her message home to a wider audience.
“I know people globally around the world are for sure watching,” she said. Gauff explained that the deaths of 17 students at the hands of a teenage gunman in the Parkland school shooting in Florida in February 2018 had already brought the issue sharply into focus on a personal level.
Some of her close friends were present at the time.
“Luckily they were able to make it out of it. I just think it’s crazy, I think I was maybe 13 or 14 when that happened, and still nothing has changed.”
Gauff insisted that she will continue to speak out on political and social issues now that she has passed her 18th birthday and has the right to vote.
“Since I was younger, my dad told me I could change the world with my racquet. He didn’t mean that by like just playing tennis. He meant speaking out on issues like this.”
Star claps back after accusation, umpire request
Gauff is the youngest Grand Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004.
“I think I’m a little bit in shock right now,” she said. I didn’t know how to react after the match. I’m lost for words.”
The players made 37 unforced errors between them in a poor first set before Gauff upped her game in the second.
There was some angst in the first set when Gauff questioned if the umpire was going to do something about the volume and timing of Trevisan’s grunting.
“Too loud or no?” she asked the chair umpire Marijana Veljovic. “I normally don’t care but when I’m hitting it, she is still screaming.”
Veljovic talked to Trevisan about the issue at a change of ends but the Italian wasn’t listening.
“I think I’m alright. I don’t need to change anything,” she said.
The 18th seeded Gauff will be a heavy underdog against Swiatek, who is on a 34-match winning streak, in Saturday’s showpiece match.
But she will have nothing to lose as she bids to become the youngest Slam winner since Sharapova stunned Serena Williams in London 18 years ago.
Unseeded Italian Trevisan saw her fine tournament and 10-match unbeaten run end with a whimper, as she served four double faults and made 36 unforced errors.
Gauff made a fast start and broke in the third game for an early advantage. She became rattled though after failing to persuade the umpire to overturn a controversial line call as errors flew off both players’ racquets.
But Gauff composed herself to take the set with a run of three straight games. Trevisan was broken four times in a row, winning just three points in those games as her serve was taken apart.
The world number 59 took a medical time-out before the second set to have her thigh strapped, but Gauff took total control of the match when she won a 14-minute game with a backhand winner for a 3-1 lead.
She went on to secure a final berth in style, breaking yet again before a hold to love.