Coco Gauff, now 18, returns to French Open quarterfinals
PARIS (AP) — Quite a trip to Paris in the springtime for 18-year-old American Coco Gauff: She celebrated graduating from high school — an achievement saluted via social media by former first lady Michelle Obama — and now is into the French Open quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
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Learning as she goes, Gauff took control of a tight opening set against No. 31 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium on Sunday and grabbed the last eight games to pull away for a 6-4, 6-0 victory in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
“You’re never going to play your best tennis in a Slam every moment of the match, but I think I’m getting better and better,” said Gauff, who is seeded 18th at the clay-court major tournament, “and I think, mentally, I can’t ask for much more from myself in each match.”
Next up will be a match against Sloane Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up, who defeated No. 23 seed Jil Teichmann of Switzerland 6-2, 6-0 later Sunday.
“I love Coco. ... I really look forward to it,” said Stephens, a 29-year-old American who arrived at Roland Garros on a five-match losing streak and with a ranking of No. 64.
The other quarterfinal on the bottom half of the draw will be a meeting between left-handers: No. 17 Leylah Fernandez, a 19-year-old Canadian who reached the final at last year’s U.S. Open, against 59th-ranked Martina Trevisan of Italy, who also got to the quarterfinals in Paris two years ago.
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Fernandez compiled more than twice as many winners, 35, as unforced errors, 17, and broke serve a half-dozen times to beat 20-year-old American Amanda Anisimova 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 on a chilly, windy day. Trevisan grabbed the last four games and eliminated Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-6 (10), 7-5.
“Every time I step out on the court, I still have something to prove,” said Fernandez, who was ranked only 73rd last September when she beat four-time major champion Naomi Osaka on the way to being the runner-up to Emma Raducanu at Flushing Meadows. “I still have that mindset I’m the underdog. I’m still young.”
Gauff, of course, is even younger.
A 2021, she was the youngest French Open quarterfinalist in 15 years, but frittered away five set points in the opener of a loss to eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova.
That stuck with her Sunday, when she was in a back-and-forth first set against Mertens that was 4-all before Gauff got going. Afterward, she praised herself for staying calm in the moment.
“That was the biggest lesson I learned last year in my quarterfinal match. I had a couple set points and I think I freaked out when some of those points didn’t go my way,” said Gauff, who delivered one around-the-net-post backhand on the run, but ultimately lost that exchange. “Today, I didn’t freak out when a couple of those important points didn’t go my way.”
Gauff burst onto the scene at Wimbledon in 2019 when she was 15 by becoming the youngest — yes, there’s that word again — qualifier in tournament history, beating Venus Williams in the first round of the main draw and getting all the way to the fourth.
Other Week 2 runs at major tournaments have followed, although she’s prouder of her success with schoolwork. She posted a series of pictures on Instagram of herself wearing her cap and gown and holding a diploma, the Eiffel Tower in the background.
A response from Obama, whom Gauff has met, was a nice surprise.
“I’m super thankful for that message. ... What really meant a lot: It wasn’t about the tennis, it was about my education,” Gauff said. “So I think that meant more to me.”
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