Gauff: 'Tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and be really proud of myself'

American teenager shifts focus to doubles final after heroic runner-up showing in singles

Coco Gauff, Roland Garros 2022, final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Stephanie Livaudais

When Coco Gauff graduated from high school before the start of Roland-Garros, she lifted up her diploma like a trophy and took her celebratory photoshoot to the Eiffel Tower.

Across two weeks at Roland-Garros, the 18-year-old showed she was still learning on the tennis court, too. 

After overcoming tricky challenges and finding solutions to reach the final without dropping a set, she brought her highest level into her first Grand Slam singles final against Iga Swiatek. Any opening the Pole allowed, Gauff was right there, ready to attack.

The problem was, there were so few openings for Gauff to pounce on. The world No.1 was simply “too good” on Saturday, Gauff said, and accepting the lessons from her 6-1, 6-3 defeat has proved to be another learning experience all on its own.

“I wasn't as nervous really entering the match,” the No.18 seed revealed in her post-match press conference. “Obviously, when I lost the first couple of games the nerves started to come, but when I lost the first set I really came out in the second and had a new mindset.

“But I think for the most part I think that Iga was just too good today. It's one of those matches that, yes, I, in some moments, could have played better. But she really didn't give me anything. Every time I thought I hit a good ball, it wasn't.

“There is a reason why she's on a winning streak. I'm just glad that I really tried my best today.”

Long tipped as a tennis prodigy, Gauff’s history with Roland-Garros goes all the way back to her days as a junior when she lifted the trophy in the girls’ tournament in 2018.

She recorded her biggest Grand Slam result as a pro last year when she made the quarter-finals here. But reaching the championship match was far from Gauff’s mind when she and her team arrived in Paris this time around.

After a tough start to the season saw Gauff struggle to string together back-to-back victories, she was largely overshadowed by her countrywomen Jessica Pegula and Amanda Anisimova – who made deep runs at key warm-up events ahead of Roland-Garros – and by world No.1 Swiatek herself, as the Pole’s head-turning streak extended into a fourth undefeated month.

Without the glaring spotlight or expectations that usually follow her into majors, Gauff was officially under the radar – and now free to swing for the fences.

Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff, Roland Garros 2022, final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“This year I feel like there was a mix in my mentality,” Gauff explained. “I think [at the] beginning of this year I lost Australian Open and a couple of first rounds, and I think I was just going into the matches trying so hard to win, not for myself but for other people.

“This tournament was the first tournament this year that I went in trying to win for myself, and I think that was the difference in my mentality. I think that now that I have found that mental state, I know how to get there. I think it will help me in future tournaments.”

That’s an ominous prospect for her future opponents, too. Gauff’s newfound mentality took her through a six-match sweep without dropping a set, and in some cases she was even dropping ‘Iga-esque’ numbers on her opponents: a 6-4, 6-0 victory over No.31 seed Elise Mertens in the fourth round and a 6-3, 6-1 rout of Martina Trevisan in the semi-finals.

There were potential stumbling blocks everywhere Gauff looked in Paris. Giant-slayer Kaia Kanepi was drawn into her section, having already ousted one former Roland-Garros champion in Garbine Muguruza, and 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens was her quarter-final opponent – but she dealt with both players emphatically.

And that’s just the singles tournament. Gauff has been imperious this week in doubles too, partnered with countrywoman Pegula to reach the women’s doubles final at the expense of just one set.

No matter where the challenges came from, the 18-year-old found the solutions. Gauff may have started the year trying to find a way to make her weaker forehand side into as much of a weapon as her backhand, but she ended up discovering that her biggest weapon was never found in her world-beating baseline game.

“I feel like I learned a lot… I know my backhand is something that everyone talks about, but really I think what got me to the final was my forehand,” she said. “So I have a lot of confidence going in, and I would say this is the best I have played on both sides, forehand and backhand.

“Even my serve, double faults have been a problem in the past for me, and I felt like this tournament it hasn't been a problem really for me.”

The Floridian teen added: “I realised the key to making the final was not something with my game or something that I needed to fix. It was more with my mentality and how I entered the matches.”

Coco Gauff, finale, Roland-Garros 2022©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Embracing the beauty of life outside the tennis court has also been part of Gauff’s new mindset, and her theme during a fortnight to remember in Paris.

Asked to reflect on her happiest moments in Paris, Gauff listed “beat my dad and my mom in a card game” right alongside reaching two Roland-Garros finals.

And posting her Eiffel Tower photos and having the congratulations pour in from all around the world – including from the likes of former US First Lady Michelle Obama – not for a tennis victory, but for an ‘off-court’ achievement like graduating high school, has driven the message home.

“This year the tennis results weren't where I wanted them to be, and I think just having something like that moment was something good for me in my head,” Gauff reflected.

“Seeing how much attention those graduation photos I got from just other people – Michelle Obama reposted that! – and for me I think it reminded me that people are proud of me outside of tennis.

“I got almost pretty much the same amount of text messages when I finished that, to today or yesterday when I made the final.”

Smiling through tears during the trophy ceremony, Gauff received a standing ovation from Chatrier for showing her grit as well as her emotions on Saturday.

Those tears proved just show how much the moment really meant to Gauff. But what’s most exciting is, when those tears dry, there will surely be more of these moments to come – perhaps even as early as Sunday, when she and Pegula face Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia in the doubles final.

“I know I've been saying a lot, ‘Oh, it's just a tennis match, it doesn't matter’. Really, that's what I believe. It doesn't matter,” Gauff said.

“I mean, with the emotions now I'm feeling it a lot, but tomorrow I'm going to wake up and be really proud of myself.”