Coco Gauff: ‘I don’t think I can change the world, but I can change some people in it’ | Sport

meIt has been three years since 15-year-old Coco Gauff burst onto the Wimbledon scene, qualified for the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time, knocked out Venus Williams in the first round and went all the way. the last 16. This year, she comes into Wimbledon with a career-high ranking of 12, a newcomer to her first Grand Slam final at the French Open, and many of her incline her to go beyond it.

For many players, that pressure would be too much to handle, but Gauff is not your typical teenager. Even at 15, she seemed unusually mature in her handling of the occasion and her many media duties, honest and happy to speak her mind, unafraid to be herself on any subject.

It is a trait that few elite athletes have. Many are often terrified to be honest, perhaps fearing their words will be used against them or taken out of context. Gauff actively chooses to take a stand on matters much bigger than tennis. When he was 16 years old, he gave an impromptu speech against police brutality towards black people as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Last month, after reaching the French Open final, he wrote on camera: “Peace. End gun violence. Coconut.”

As a child, her father told her that she could change the world with her racket. After her semi-final win in Paris, Gauff said he told her, “I’m proud of you and I love what you wrote on camera.” She investigates, so she knows what she’s talking about.

“For a lot of things, before I talk about something, I try to make sure I have all the information,” says Gauff. “If I don’t know the answer, how I feel about my opinion on a certain situation, I prefer to say that I don’t have enough information.

“I am grateful for the platform that I have and I know how many people it reaches. I am aware. So I try to make sure I use it to talk about issues that can maybe slightly change some things. You know, I don’t think I’m going to change the world. I’m not delusional, but I think it could change some people in the world.”

Her words and actions have caught the attention of Billie Jean King, the 39-time Grand Slam singles and doubles champion who led the founding of the WTA and who has been an activist, leader and motivator for younger players throughout her career. life. Greatness meets greatness, and this month in Paris, King explained why she admires Gauff so much.

“I love the fact that Coco uses tennis as a platform for social change and helping others,” said King. “Of course I like that. I always want all generations, both men and women, to step forward, because sport is politics. Politics is sport. So anyone who doesn’t believe it, I don’t agree with them. They could be right; I could be wrong. Sport is politics. Because people say, well, you’re into sports. Is different.”

Coco Gauff in action against Sloane Stephens in the French Open quarterfinals, where Gauff reached her first Grand Slam final. Photograph: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Gauff was touched by King’s words. “He probably wouldn’t even get a chance to play, at least [not] to the extent that I’m playing, if it weren’t for her and the other original 9”, she says of the group of women who in 1970 broke up and founded the forerunner of the WTA Tour. “So I’m super grateful to get a shout out from her.

“I’ve met her a couple of times, but every time I see her or meet her I get goosebumps just because I’m so thankful that she made that decision at the time, because it’s kind of hard to go against the norm. They had nothing insured. So to have someone like her really recognize me and congratulate me and say that she’s proud of me, not just how I am on the court, [but] off the court, it means a lot to me.”

As a high-profile young black athlete, Gauff is an easy target for internet trolls, but it doesn’t seem to bother her. Her message on camera in Paris, she said, was about trying to reach as many people as possible.

“I don’t really care about the praise or the negative reactions,” he said. “Obviously there was a backlash. People say, ‘Oh, what’s going to change anything with a message?’ And I mean, I understand that writing on camera is not going to change or prevent gun violence from happening. But it’s about getting the message out and reaching the people in office who have the real power to change this.

“I know one thing isn’t going to change anything, but it’s not about me. It’s about the bigger picture. So when I write these things, I don’t care what praise or criticism I get because I didn’t write them for myself. I wrote it for those people who lost their lives not only this year, but in the past.

“After the game I didn’t know what to write and I thought: ‘This is something I can write because I hope the change will happen.’ And I need people to hear my message and for those people to make change happen.”

At 18, Gauff is one of the youngest players to rise to the top of the game, but it seems like she was born to lead, whether on or off the court. She is a cloak that does not scare him and, in fact, actively hugs.

“I feel like my position in the world is a very privileged position and I don’t take anything for granted,” he says. “Seeing the way my grandparents and parents grew up and other relatives grew up, I have a lot of relatives who are veterans and part of a family after WWII and Vietnam, so I feel like the fact that they put their lives on the line. risk, anything I say is not really putting my life at risk.

“I think growing up around that and being encouraged by people, even at a young age, to talk about things makes me not afraid to do so.”

But Gauff also said she doesn’t think everyone should feel like they have to speak up if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. “I think lately I feel like we have this cancel culture where people [feel] if someone doesn’t talk about something, they’re obviously against it,” he says. “It’s not that. I think they’re probably not comfortable with that. And that’s fine too.

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“That’s why there are activists and there are people who are just not activists. I think it’s important that we don’t pressure people to do things they don’t want to do because then the message isn’t genuine and we get into misinformation. And that’s really how misinformation spreads.”

Whatever Gauff does for the next two weeks, he will use the platform his racket gives him. Tennis is lucky to have her.

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