By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Tennis Writer
PARIS (AP) — Greatness has been expected of Coco Gauff since she was a kid, playing in — and winning — junior events. The Floridian is still young, of course, reaching her first Grand Slam final at the French Open at age 18.
After seeing up close what it takes to be a major champion in a 6-1, 6-3 loss to top-ranked Iga Swiatek at Roland Garros on Saturday, Gauff was unhappy about the outcome, yes, but also determined as ever to keep striving, keep improving, and be even more ready next time.
Because Gauff is certain there will be a next time.
“I feel like, throughout my career, and even in juniors, the reason I had success so early is that I was able to see that level and then go back and practice and try to reach that level. Now that I have seen the level — this level of No. 1 and 35 matches (won in a row by Swiatek), I know what I have to do,” Gauff said. “I’m sure I’m going to play her in another final and, hopefully, it’s a different result.”
Gauff, who whiled away idle time during the tournament by playing card games with her parents, was the youngest French Open finalist since Kim Clijsters in 2001, and was trying to become the youngest Slam title winner since Maria Sharapova was 17 at Wimbledon in 2004.
This was the 11th major tournament of Gauff’s nascent career and her first trip past the quarterfinals.
She’s been on the radar of everyone in tennis for a while, though, even since before she won the junior title at Roland Garros at 14. That was followed, in 2019, by her big breakthrough at Wimbledon when she was 15, becoming the youngest player to qualify for the women’s draw there, then beating seven-time major champ Venus Williams in the first round and getting to the fourth before losing to eventual champion Simona Halep.
There has been steady progress since — a rise to No. 15 in the rankings (she is now No. 23, but will get to No. 13 after her run in Paris), two WTA titles, 100 match wins on tour, more than $3 million in prize money — and a desire for more.
“I want to congratulate you, because you’re doing an amazing job. I can see that every month you’re progressing all the time, basically,” the 21-year-old Swiatek told Gauff during Saturday’s trophy presentation. “When I was your age, I had my first year on tour, and I had no idea what I’m doing. So you will find it and you will be there, I’m pretty sure of that.”
The maturity Gauff displays on the court has been seen off it, as well, whether in her dedication to academics — she celebrated her high school graduation by posing for cap-and-gown photos near the Eiffel Tower before the French Open — or her willingness to speak out about societal issues. After her semifinal win Thursday, the most important triumph of her career to date, Gauff had the wherewithal to write, “Peace. End gun violence” on a courtside TV camera lens, 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 her past six tournaments and now owns two trophies from Roland Garros, would not allow it.
Gauff had broken her previous six opponents over the past two weeks a total of 35 times. Against Swiatek, Gauff managed only one break point. Often rushed by Swiatek’s early strikes, Gauff made 23 unforced errors, compared to just 14 winners.
“It probably looked like I was freaking out,” said Gauff, who will play in the women’s doubles final alongside American Jessica Pegula, “but really, it was just Iga was too good.”
When it ended, there were tears from Gauff as she sat on her changeover chair, then again when she received her runner-up hardware and, later, during her news conference. She said there were similar reactions from members of her group, including a younger brother who attended the final.
“I was trying to just 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 bad for myself, and I know they wanted it so bad for me.”
Able to see the big picture, and optimistic about her future, Gauff figured the disappointment would pass.
“Tomorrow, or even tonight, we’re going to play cards again,” she said, “and we are going to laugh and we are going to be fine.”
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