American tennis star Coco Gauff (AFP)
Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP
Coco Gauff says she has ‘nothing to lose’ in Saturday’s French Open final against world number one Iga Swiatek, with her opponent on a 34-game winning streak and looking to a second title at Roland Garros.
Teenage star Gauff is the youngest Grand Slam finalist since Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon 18 years ago and only graduated from high school in Paris.
The 18-year-old is yet to drop a set in the tournament and showed few signs of nervousness in her first major semi-final with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Martina Trevisan.
But she is the outsider to Poland’s Swiatek, who will equal Venus Williams’ record for the longest female unbeaten streak of the 21st century if she lifts the trophy.
“I think going in I have nothing to lose and she’s definitely the match favorite on paper,” said American Gauff, who burst onto the scene making the fourth round of Wimbledon at the age 15 in 2019.
“I’m just going to play free and play my best tennis. I think in a Grand Slam final anything can happen.
“If I lift the trophy, honestly, I don’t think my life will really change. I know it sounds a little bad to say this, but the people who love me are always going to love me no matter if I lift the trophy or not.
Swiatek, who herself only turned 21 on Tuesday, has had a standout season and is seeking a sixth straight title.
The 2020 French Open champion’s 6-2, 6-1 semi-final against Daria Kasatkina saw her equal Serena Williams’ best winning streak of 2013.
“It’s going to be tough (for her opponent),” Russia’s Kasatkina said after seeing her run ended by the top seed.
“I think the mental part is going to, especially in the beginning, make a big difference.
“It’s difficult when the player is moving well and then she can go into attack mode. Then it makes it really, really difficult.”
Four of Swiatek’s five tournament victories this year have come at prestigious WTA 1000 events, but she says she still has to battle the nerves ahead of the big games.
“I couldn’t completely get rid of the expectations (in the semi-finals), but I tried to accept that, that they’re going to be there and that’s going to stress me out a bit more,” Swiatek said.
Gauff wrote “peace, end gun violence” on an on-pitch TV camera after her semi-final victory and said she wanted to speak out about issues off the pitch.
Swiatek, however, doesn’t think she’s ready to use her profile to talk about political or social issues just yet.
“I don’t really know how I want to use my platform,” she said. “I haven’t figured it out yet, because it’s still quite new to me.
“I feel like I have to focus on my tennis first. When I get more experience in life in general, I think it will be easier for me to choose the right path.”
The Pole has won both of her career encounters with Gauff – in the Rome 2021 semi-finals and in Miami earlier this year.
“I’m pretty happy that she’s doing well, because I think she’s been under a lot of pressure in her life as well,” Swiatek said of Gauff.
“When I see her, I tend to forget she’s 18.”
Swiatek says she listens to classic rock music, including Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, before hitting the field, while Gauff enjoys a hardcore rap playlist.
But there will be no clash of styles on Court Philippe Chatrier since the two players have a game based on hitting hard from the baseline.
With a combined age younger than the injured Serena Williams, this could be the first Grand Slam chapter in a long rivalry at the top of the women’s game.