Coco Gauff learns the hard way as she reaches French Open quarter-finals | French Open 2022

For much of the early stages of her fourth-round fight on the Philippe Chatrier court, Coco Gauff fought an uphill battle. After losing her serve early on, every time she stepped back to level the set, she quickly dropped her serve again. Countless long exchanges of attrition followed against one of the circuit’s most enduring players, Elise Mertens, and the closeness of the duel was reflected in the tension emanating from Gauff’s mother, Candi, in the stands. .

But one of the qualities that Gauff can now draw on is his growing experience. She’s in her third season on tour, she’s held some of these positions before and instead of her once carefree precociousness, she now has the advantage of learning from previous hardships.

After those early stages, 18th-seeded Gauff moved away from Mertens. His trickery, his defense and the injections of pace on his backhand were too much for the Belgian 31st seed. Gauff cruised to a 6-4, 6-0 victory to reach their second quarter-final in Paris.

Gauff said: “I’m really enjoying the tournament, I’m enjoying life. I don’t think about the end result. I’m just enjoying the match ahead of me and whatever happens happens. It’s out of my control. I’ll do my best anyway.

In the process, she established herself as one of the top contenders to reach the final in the wide-open bottom half of the draw. In four matches in Paris so far, Gauff hasn’t dropped a set and enjoys clay like few players in her part of the world; she won the Roland-Garros junior title in 2018 and many of her best results have come, including a quarter-final last year in Paris.

She is already one of the best athletes and players on the tour, but on clay she is one of the most difficult players to get the ball on the surface. “It’s one of my strengths on other surfaces, but I think clay only reinforces that. I really like sliding,” Gauff said Friday. “I think it helps me recover faster after reaching the ball.”

After the intense first months of her career in 2019, the spotlight has turned to the most recent young emerging players. Rather than exploding to the top of the game, Gauff made incremental improvements. With her speed, first serve and defense, she particularly established herself as a smart and resourceful player with variety in her game. Her forehand, still the biggest hole in her game, also improved and is particularly effective on clay where his heavy topspin, slices and drop shots have irritated Mertens throughout.

Canadian Leylah Fernandez fires a backhand on the line against Amanda Anisimova.
Canadian Leylah Fernandez fires a backhand on the line against Amanda Anisimova. Photography: Thibault Camus/AP

Having turned 18 in March, Gauff has finally been able to put aside the school work she has been juggling with her tennis since appearing on the tour as a high school graduate. While most students do this right from their graduation ceremony, Gauff posted her graduation photos from the Eiffel Tower.

“Honestly, it was very difficult, just because at least in Grand Slams in particular, I’m more mentally exhausted than physically,” Gauff said of juggling schoolwork and life as a player. high-level professional tennis. “Physically I can play 20 more games and mentally I’m barely getting by.”

As she heads to another Grand Slam in search of her first semi-final, Gauff now has the advantage of doing so by focusing solely on tennis and learning from her growing bank of experience.

“Whereas last year I feel like I thought if I could have made it through that quarter-final maybe I could have won the tournament because I saw that the other team opened up, and this time going in, I don’t think of it like that,” she said. “I think, especially if the US Open taught us anything, anyone can win any day.”

One of these protagonists in New York has also moved. 17th seed Leylah Fernandez dominated and defeated 27th seeded Amanda Anisimova to win 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to reach her second Grand Slam quarter-final in Paris.

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