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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, June 7, 2021

 
Coco Gauff

Seventeen-year-old Coco Gauff dismissed Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-1 charging into her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros.

Photo credit: Roland Garros Facebook

Coco Gauff could see the finish line as clearly as the baseline.

The 17-year-old Gauff sprinted through it with the confidence of a player running downhill.

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In a clash of former French Open girls' champions, Gauff did not face a break point dismissing Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-1 charging into her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal in just her seventh major appearance.

"It means a lot to me, especially I have lost in the fourth round a couple times so it feels good to get over that hurdle," said Gauff, who had contested fourth-rounders at Wimbledon and the Australian Open. "Today I played probably my best match so far in the tournament."



A red-hot Gauff played her most dynamic tennis of the tournament extending her career-best winning streak to nine matches becoming the youngest woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal since 2006 when at 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova reached the final four in Paris.

Setting the tone on serve, Gauff served 66 percent, dropped only nine points on her serve and was never pressed to deuce in any service game in a dominant 53-minute victory.

Three years after Gauff captured the Roland Garros girls' title and two years after she won her first Tour-level match at the Miami Open, she's the youngest American major quarterfinalist since a 17-year-od Venus Williams reached the 1997 US Open final and the youngest American to make the last eight in Paris since Jennifer Capriati in 1993. Gauff and Venus Williams partnered in the Roland Garros doubles last week in a team that featured the oldest and youngest women in the field.

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Showing no trace of nerves in the biggest match of her career, Gauff's heavy groundstrokes nullified Jabeur's creative finesse and drop-shot skills. Gauff not only overpowered the 25th-seeded Jabeur from the baseline,  she played a cleaner match committing just nine errors—12 fewer than her opponent—and controlled net play as well winning 13 of 17 trips to net. 

"I think for me what was important was the depth on the ball today," Gauff said. "That's one of the things I came out there focused on just because she has some unreal hands, probably the best hands on tour regarding drop shots and slices and all that. I knew that to make it difficult for her I had to push the ball deep.

"I mean, no matter how good you are, it would be hard to drop shot on a deep, pretty heavy deep ball, so that's what I was focused on. You know, it went my way."




Gauff's all-court game, competitive zeal and enthusiasm for playing—she's played both singles and doubles at 10 of the 11 tournaments she's contested this season—is refreshing. Gauff has won 12 of her last 13 clay-court matches with her lone loss coming to reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek 7-6(3), 6-3 in the Rome semifinals last month.

"I feel like all the time I play I love the game. I mean, I'm always having fun on the court," Gauff said. "I will say there has been times where I guess moments for a couple weeks where I wasn't having as much fun, I guess, but it wasn't because I didn't want to play. It's just you get caught up in playing week to week and you kind of lose it a little bit."

An energized Gauff, who tuned up for Paris sweeping singles and doubles crowns in Parma, will face one of the game's hottest players in Barbora Krejcikova for a semifinal spot in a clash of two women riding clay win streaks.




The 33rd-ranked Krejcikova crushed 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-0 in 67 minutes.

The former world No. 1 doubles player won seven straight games to close her ninth consecutive victory. Krejcikova, who knocked off fifth-seeded Elina Svitolina in the third round, is still alive in doubles and mixed doubles too.

Though a clinical Krejcikova snuffed out Stephens' hope winning seven straight games to close the match, she was so stressed before the match she locked herself in the physio room in tears and chatted with her sport psychologist to get her head together and dismantle the former US Open champion.

"I just woke up and I just felt really, I don't know, I just felt really bad. I don't know why," Krejcikova said. "I just felt really stressed. I don't know why or what for. You know, half an hour before the match, I didn't even want to step on the court, because I just really felt really bad, and I had to, like, lock myself in the physio room and I had to talk to my psychologist. I was actually crying. I don't know.

"I just felt really, really bad, and I don't know why. It just happened. We talk about it a lot, and, you know, she told me  if you can overcome this, what you feel right now, it's going to be a huge win, and it doesn't matter if you're gonna win on the court or lose on the court, because it's going to be a personal win. I just went there on the court, and I know that it didn't look like it, but I just felt really, really bad. You know, I was just happy that I started well. I think after the first point, you know, things got a little bit better, a little bit easier.

"Then I broke her. I just felt like, yeah, you know, I can play, I can actually play her."

Krejcikova and Gauff will face off for the first time in singles though they have played each other in doubles and the Czech is impressed with what she's seen from the American teenager.

"She's young, she's amazing, she's coming up. You know, she's gonna be the next star," Krejcikova said. "I'm just gonna go have fun, enjoy. You know, do my best. Try to prepare a good game plan. I mean, right now I don't really think about it, because, you know, I'm just gonna go, I'm playing mixed later on today, I'm gonna play doubles tomorrow. Just so many other categories that I have to prepare for and think of.

"So I'm just gonna right now I'm just gonna enjoy I played really well today and that I beat Sloane and that I'm in my first quarterfinals."

Krejcikova, like Gauff, can play all-court tennis. One of the fastest women in the sport, Gauff knows she must be quick off the mark against Krejcikova, who is comfortable from anywhere on the court. 

"She's obviously been having a great clay season, and she's a tough opponent," Gauff said. "I think that she's a really smart player and she's been on tour for some time.

"She's one of those players, I guess, an all-court player, she can play all parts of the court. She does well in singles and doubles and mixed doubles. I'm just going to go out there and just focus on playing my game and not so much about her.

"Yeah, she might be like the "veteran" in this matchup, but I think I'm just not going to focus too much on the decisions she makes and more about what I do on the court."

 

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