Monday, June 17, 2024

US Open champ Coco Gauff calls on young Americans to get out and vote. ‘Use the power that we have’

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ROME (AP) — She’s the U.S. Open champion. The highest paid female athlete in the world. And a frustrated Floridian.

American tennis player Coco Gauff has never been afraid to use her voice.

Not when she delivered an impromptu speech at a Black Lives Matter rally at the age of 16. And not now at age 20 when she’s preparing to vote for the first time in a U.S. presidential election later this year.

Gauff, who will be among the favorites when the French Open starts on Sunday in Paris, addressed the current political climate in her home state during a recent interview with The Associated Press.

She noted that it’s “a crazy time to be a Floridian, especially a Black one at that.”

“We aren’t happy with the current state of our government in Florida, especially everything with the books and just the way our office operates,” Gauff said, referring to a two-year-long controversy over banning books from the state’s schools that started with a bill signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

DeSantis backtracked on the law last month, when he signed a bill narrowing its focus. He blamed liberal activists for abusing the law, not the citizens whose objections to certain books account for the majority of book removals from school libraries and classrooms.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to the youth and the community being outspoken,” Gauff said at the Italian Open last week. “So I encourage everyone to vote, and use your voice regardless of who you vote for. There’s no point in complaining (about) the political climate of the world if you don’t exercise your right to vote.”

Gauff has been speaking out on racial injustice and police brutality ever since that speech in 2020 in front of City Hall in her hometown of Delray Beach.

“I feel like sometimes in my generation, people think their vote doesn’t count,” Gauff said. “We should just all just use our voices and use the power that we have.”

DeSantis’ office disputed Gauff’s claim about the health of Florida, responding that her comments overlook successes such as breaking tourism records. “Florida is thriving,” spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in an email.

Gauff is not campaigning for anyone in particular for the general election.

“I’ll leave who I vote to myself,” she said. “I’m not publicly backing any candidate.”

Still, Gauff remains a public figure in the Delray Beach community. In March, she unveiled refurbished courts at the public park where she played as a kid. And she’s been playing with the coordinates of those Pompey Park courts inscribed on the toes of her left tennis sneaker.

On the toes of her right sneaker is a quote from Gauff’s father, Corey: “You can change the world with your racket.”

TEEN SUCCESS

At the U.S. Open in September, Gauff became the first American teenager to win the country’s biggest tennis tournament since Serena Williams in 1999.

Helped by her title in New York, Gauff became the world’s top-earning female athlete last year with $22.7 million in prize money and endorsements, according to the sports-business outlet Sportico.

She had already burst onto the scene at 15 by becoming the youngest qualifier in Wimbledon history and then making it to the fourth round in her Grand Slam debut in 2019. Then she reached her first major final at the 2022 French Open, finishing as the runner-up to Iga Swiatek.

SNAILS AND HOT CHOCOLATE

Concerning that loss to Swiatek at Roland Garros in 2022, Gauff feels she has some unfinished business in Paris.

Because Paris is her favorite city.

The city she traveled to for the first time at age 10 when she was invited to train at the academy run by Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ former coach.

The city where she won her first junior Grand Slam title by raising the French Open girls’ trophy in 2018.

“I fell in love with the city because I went at such a young age and it felt so magical and I think that feeling has just stayed with me,” Gauff said.

While she’s still learning to speak French — “I’ve been on and off learning since I was literally 10 years old. But one day I’ll get there hopefully” — Gauff has developed a taste for Paris’ culinary delicacies.

So what does she like to eat in the French capital?

“A lot of croissants, obviously. I do like escargot. I know it’s like a hit or miss between some people, but honestly don’t mind the snails too much,” Gauff said. “Crème brûlée is nice. And foie gras is nice. And hot chocolate. They have good hot chocolate in Paris.”

MEETING ZENDAYA

An anticipated meeting between Zendaya — who headlines the tennis movie “ Challengers ” — still hasn’t happened.

Brad Gilbert, Gauff’s coach, was Zendaya’s tennis consultant for the movie, and the actress recently said that she wanted to meet Coco.

“It’s kind of in her court,” Gauff said. “I don’t really know because we’re both busy. But it will happen. I just don’t know when.”

Zendaya sent Gauff flowers as congratulations for her U.S. Open title after Gilbert provided the player’s home address.

So might Gilbert act as the go-between for a Zendaya-Gauff meeting?

“I think Zendaya has way more pull than Brad does,” Gauff said with a laugh.

OLYMPIC GOALS

It’s not just the French Open title that the third-ranked Gauff is chasing at Roland Garros this year. She also wants gold — more than one — at the Paris Olympics.

Tennis will be played at Roland Garros during the Olympics and Gauff is extra motivated, having missed the Tokyo Games after testing positive for the coronavirus.

“It’s at the top of my goal board,” said Gauff, who wants to play singles, doubles and mixed doubles. “Getting a medal would mean almost as (much as) a Grand Slam. I would choose a Grand Slam more but I would choose maybe a doubles gold medal over a doubles slam. … I just want to win a medal.

“It’s just something unique that I can relate to, like a track athlete or a gymnastic athlete,” Gauff added.

While Gauff doesn’t plan on staying in the Athletes Village fulltime — “because I heard the village is far from Roland Garros” — she still has a list of Olympians from other sports who she wants to meet.

Simone Biles tops the list, then there’s Sha’Carri Richardson and Katie Ledecky.

“Maybe some of the WNBA players, too,” Gauff added. “I don’t know if Caitlin Clark is going to make the USA team, but that would be cool.”

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Associated Press writer Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.

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