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Bigger issues than tennis on Coco Gauff's mind ahead of French Open final

The 18-year-old, who has only just graduated high school, was widely praised for her impromptu ‘peace, end gun violence’ message.

Coco Gauff of USA pictured during her semi-final match.
Coco Gauff of USA pictured during her semi-final match.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THEY WERE just four words written in haste on a TV camera, but Coco Gauff has already left a lasting impression on the French Open regardless of whether or not she wins a maiden Grand Slam title on Saturday.

The 18-year-old, who has only just graduated high school, was widely praised for her impromptu ‘peace, end gun violence’ message scribbled on a TV camera lens after her semi-final victory.

Former US First Lady Michelle Obama was among those voicing their admiration for the teenager’s stance on gun control.

“@CocoGauff ! I’m so proud of you, and I will be rooting for you all the way,” she tweeted.

Gauff has made a habit of speaking out on social and political issues in the United States.

In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd two years ago, Gauff, just 16 at the time, took to TikTok to protest the violent deaths of African-Americans in the US.

Juxtaposing an image of herself clad in a black hoodie with photos of Floyd, the words “Am I next?” flashed across the video.

Later in 2020, she addressed a crowd at her home town in Florida, speaking out against racism and police brutality.

She references the likes of fellow tennis players, Serena Williams, Billie-Jean King and Naomi Osaka, as well as the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick and basketball superstar LeBron James for using their public profiles and platforms.

“People always say, sports and politics should stay separate and all this. And I say yes, but also at the same time I’m a human first before I’m a tennis player,” said Gauff.

“If I’m interested in this, I wouldn’t even consider gun violence politics; I think that’s just life in general. I don’t think that’s political at all.”

Gauff knows that, although written in Paris, her words will have been seen globally.

“Hopefully it gets into the heads of people in office to hopefully change things,” she said.

- ‘Life won’t change’ -

The gesture came just hours after a gunman killed four people at a hospital building in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the latest in a string of mass shootings across the United States in recent weeks.

10 Black supermarket shoppers killed in Buffalo and a school shooting in Texas, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, all added to the grim toll.

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 for Gauff.

Some of her close friends were caught up in the tragedy.

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“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 is at ease in the public eye having burst onto the tennis scene in 2019 when, just 15, she became the youngest player to make the main draw at Wimbledon.

She famously defeated Venus Williams on her way to the fourth round.

Later that summer, a tearful exit at the hands of Naomi Osaka in the US Open in front of 24,000 people on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the sport’s biggest, most intimidating arena, won her many more admirers.

She captured her first career title in Linz in 2019, adding a second in Parma last year.

On Saturday, she faces world number one Iga Swiatek for the French Open title where she will be the youngest Grand Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004.

“If I do lift the trophy, I don’t think my life is going to change. 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,” she said.

– © AFP 2022

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