Gauff Brings Big Picture Mindset Into Roland Garros Final

Coco Gauff (photo: Roland Garros video)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 4, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Coco Gauff may only be 18, but don’t be fooled by her youthful nature. Watch her play, listen to her during interviews, and you’ll see and learn that she’s wise beyond her teenage years.

On Saturday afternoon, Gauff’s sprightly potential and her ability to perform well under pressure – not to mention her big picture mindset – will be fully on display when she walks out on Court Philippe-Chatrier to play No. 1 seed Iga Swiatek at the French Open for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen trophy. There’ll be hard-core rap streaming through her ear buds to help her get hyped for the match, then Gauff will dream big from first ball to last ball.

Tapped for greatness since winning the French Open junior girls’ title at age 14 in 2018, Gauff has become the youngest French Open finalist since Kim Clijsters in 2001 and the youngest major finalist since Maria Sharapova took Wimbledon by storm in 2004, when she won the grass-court Grand Slam at age 17. Of course, not to be forgotten, there will be youthful exuberance on the other side of the net in World No. 1 Swiatek, who just turned 21 this week.

“There’s a fine line between believing in yourself and almost pushing yourself too much,” Gauff said in press earlier this week, after she defeated Italy’s Martina Trevisan, 10 years her senior, 6-3, 6-1, in the semifinal round.

Last year, Gauff reached the quarterfinals in Paris before losing to eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic. Then, she showed her frustration by flinging her racquet and overall didn’t handle the pressure very well. However, there were lessons learned from losing.

“At that moment, I wanted it too much,” Gauff said. “Whereas now, I definitely want it. Yes, who wouldn’t? But also, it’s not going to be the end of the world it if doesn’t happen for me.”

Fast forward to now, what a difference a year makes. Not only did Gauff celebrate her high school graduation upon arriving in Paris, this time, she’s also yet to lose a set in her six wins during this Paris fortnight. She’s strung together half a dozen straight-set victories over the likes of Rebecca Marino of Canada, Alison van Uytvanck of Belgium, Kai Kanepi of Estonia, Elise Mertens of Belgium, American Sloane Stephens and Trevisan to improve to 20-10. Gauff has shown a variety of skills that have translated well on clay, including her agile footwork and timing and, just as important as her ability to unleash power at the right moment, there’s been her display of patience.

It’s been a great two-week run for Gauff, who has also advanced to Sunday’s doubles final with fellow American Jessica Pegula, following a straight-set victory over Madison Keys and Taylor Townsend, both of the United States.

Gauff enters the singles final 0-2 lifetime against Swiatek, which includes a 7-6 (3), 6-3 semifinal loss at Rome last year and a 6-3, 6-1 defeat in the round of 16 of the Miami Open last March. Certainly, the Polish star will be the odds-on- favorite to win her second major and a Roland Garros title to go with her first one won in 2020. After all, Swiatek brings a 34-match winning streak into the title match – including a perfect 15-0 record on clay this season – and has dropped only one set during the French fortnight. She’ll be trying to become only the fifth No. 1 seed in the past 25 years to triumph in Paris.

Speaking like a pragmatist, Gauff said of Swiatek: “She’s on a streak right now obviously, and I think going in I have nothing to lose. But I think that going in, I’m just going to play free and play my best tennis. In a Grand Slam final, anything can happen.”

Regardless of the outcome, Gauff will rise to a career best No. 13 next week and, if by chance she pulls off a big upset of Swiatek, she will climb to No. 8. Looking at the big picture, though, Gauff admits that the Roland Garros final “is just a tennis match.

“Whatever happens, it happens,” she said. Then, breaking into a smile, Gauff offered this bit of refreshing truthfulness that sets her apart from so many other players, regardless of age.

“If I do lift the trophy, honestly, I don’t think my life is going to change really. I mean, I know it sounds kind of bad to say that, but the people who love me are still going to love me regardless if I lift the trophy or not. I mean, obviously, if I do, it will probably be more attention from the people around the world. But in general, in that aspect, I’m not worried about how my life is going to change, because I really don’t think it’s going to change.”