Coco Gauff will face Iga Swiatek in the Roland-Garros final

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PARIS — When Coco Gauff was a child, her father told her: “You can change the world with your racket.”

Now 18 and a recent high school graduate, Gauff took a major step in her rise to tennis’ elite ranks on Thursday at Roland Garros by qualifying for her first Grand Slam final with a 6-3 win. , 6-1 over Italian Martina Trevisan. at the French Open.

Afterwards, as is customary with winners when they leave the field, Gauff autographed the lens of the television camera, writing “Peace” and “End Gun Violence” and signing “Coco” next to it. a drawing representing a heart.

Asked about her statement at the press conference that followed, Gauff recalled her father’s words years ago.

“He didn’t mean [change the world] just playing tennis,” Gauff said. “He meant to speak out on issues like this.”

Gauff, who has been tapped for greatness since winning the French Open women’s championship aged 14, reached the final here without conceding a set in six games.

Her reward is a meeting with world No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland, the 2020 French Open champion, who clinched her place in the final with a 6-2, 6-1 rout of Daria Kasatkina earlier in the day.

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It was Swiatek’s 34th straight win, and it summed up everything that makes her such a formidable opponent: the variety of her tactics; the powerful forehand, reminiscent of the heavy strikes of his idol, Rafael Nadal; his speed and agility, especially on the red clay courts of Roland Garros; and his relentless attack.

Gauff has lost to Swiatek in their previous two encounters and is fully aware of Saturday’s challenge.

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

Women’s tennis is in a period of transition.

Serena Williams, her greatest champion, with a record 23 Grand Slam titles, has not competed since injuring her leg in a first-round loss at Wimbledon last year. At 40, she has not announced a timetable for her return.

Top-ranked Ashleigh Barty abruptly retired in March at 25, just weeks after winning her third Grand Slam title.

On Wednesday, Roland-Garros tournament director Amélie Mauresmo, herself a former No.1, said women’s tennis was not as attractive as men’s tennis as she defended her decision to stage one in nine men’s matches. of the 10 night sessions of the event.

Yet thanks to the excellence of their play and their acceptance of the pressure that comes with world-class competition, Gauff and Swiatek have given the French Open promoters a dream championship game.

At 18 and 21, they represent the present and, quite possibly, the future of the game – young women with big games, boatloads of confidence and a perspective that extends beyond the pitch.

“I feel like a lot of times we’re put in a box where people always say, ‘Oh, sport and politics have to stay separate’ and all that,” Gauff said when asked about her decision. to publicly address issues it deems important. . “I say yes.’ But also at the same time, I’m a human first before being a tennis player…. So of course I’ll care about [gun violence] and speak out on these issues.

While tennis has been her profession since signing her first endorsement contract at 14, Gauff is aware of the privilege her sport offers – not just a chance to compete, but a platform to address issues such as as racial justice and social justice.

She has thought deeply about gun violence since the Parkland shootings in Florida. She had friends at school.

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“I was maybe 14 or 13 when it happened, and still nothing has changed,” Gauff said. “Now, especially at 18, I’ve really tried to educate myself about certain situations because now I have the right to vote and I want to use it wisely.”

Gauff is the youngest French Open finalist since Belgium’s Kim Clijsters in 2001, and her love of clay is one of the qualities that sets her apart from other up-and-coming players and her fellow Americans in particular.

Gauff has a terrific mix of skills that translates well on the box, where nimble footwork, timing and patience matter more than power. She is quick and agile, able to switch from attack to defense in no time. She’s also patient and smart, able to stay in the rally until the right time comes to unleash the thundering forehand that is her strength.

Thursday’s match against Trevisan was tricky, with six service breaks in the first set.

They traded breaks of serve and rebukes early in the first set.

Trevisan’s strengths, at 5ft 3in, are passion and cunning rather than power. And early in the game, his loud growls troubled Gauff, who raised the matter with the chair umpire.

It wasn’t the volume that was problematic, Gauff later explained, but the duration, spanning three syllables (“uh-ah-AHH!”), which meant she was always growling when Gauff hit the ball.

Shortly after, Trevisan questioned a line call – the first of many questions from both players – and it resulted in an erratic first set, with five consecutive service breaks.

But as the match wore on, Gauff upped her game, minimizing mistakes and choosing openings wisely for winners.

Swiatek’s semi-final win was more effective.

She established her superiority over the 20th-ranked Russian and never calmed down, mounting a relentless attack as if racing against the clock.

Since taking over the No. 1 ranking from Barty in April, Swiatek has reflected on the platform she’s gained and how to put it to good use.

One statement she continues to make is in support of Ukraine, which borders her native Poland, and Ukrainians fighting the Russian invasion. This is the meaning of the Ukrainian flag, in the shape of a pin, which she wears on her cap during matches.

“I know a lot of players were playing with ribbons at the beginning of the war, [when] all the noise was a little louder,” Swiatek recently said when asked about his pin. “I realized that some of them had taken them off, which for me is quite weird because there is always war. There are still people who are suffering. I will wear it until the situation is improving.

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