Coco Gauff became the youngest Grand Slam finalist in 18 years at the French Open on Thursday and used her landmark performance to demand action on mass shootings in the United States by writing “peace, end gun violence” on a courtside TV camera.
American star Gauff, 18, will face world number one Iga Swiatek in the final on Saturday after defeating Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-1 in her semi-final.
Before penning her plea for gun control at home, she insisted that recent tragedies mean she will treat victory or defeat in the championship match with equal equanimity.
“Yeah it’s a Grand Slam final but there are so many things going on in the world, especially in the U.S. — I think it’s not important to stress over a tennis match,” she said in her on-court TV interview.
Gauff was talking just hours after a gunman killed at least four people at a hospital building in Tulsa, Oklahoma, — the latest in a string of mass shootings across the United States in recent weeks.
The killings come as Texas families bury their dead after a school shooting left 19 young children dead just eight days earlier.
Winning players at the French Open are invited to write messages on the courtside TV camera. Usually they are light-hearted, often bland declarations.
However, Gauff seized her chance in front of a global TV audience, hoping that her gun control message will “get into the heads of people in office to hopefully change things”.
“The first thing my dad said to me after I got off court, I’m proud of you and I love what you wrote on the camera.”
Gauff said she had not planned to write the message should she have won the match on Roland Garros’ showpiece Philippe Chatrier Court.
“It just felt right in that moment and to write that. I woke up this morning and I saw there was another shooting, and I think it’s just crazy.”
Gauff hoped that being in Europe will help get her message home to a wider audience.
“I know people globally around the world are for sure watching,” she said.
Gauff explained that 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.
Some of her close friends were present at the time.
“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 insisted that she will continue to speak out on political and social issues now that she has passed her 18th birthday and has the right to vote.
“Since I was younger, my dad told me I could change the world with my racquet. He didn’t mean that by like just playing tennis. He meant speaking out on issues like this.”