During much of the early stages of her fourth-round brawl on Court Philippe Chatrier, Coco Gauff fought an uphill battle. After losing her service early, every time she broke back to level the set, she would quickly drop her service again. Countless long, worn-out rallies followed against one of the most enduring players on the tour, Elise Mertens, and the tension of the duel was reflected in the tension radiating from Gauff’s mother, Candi, in the stands.
But one of the qualities Gauff can now use is her growing experience. She is in her third season on tour, she has been in some of those positions before and instead of her carefree precocity of old, she now has the advantage of learning from previous rehearsals.
After those early stages, 18th seed Gauff left Mertens. Her cunning, defense and the injections of speed on her back were too much for the Belgian 31st seed. Gauff secured a 6-4, 6-0 victory to reach her second quarterfinal in Paris.
Gauff said: “I really just enjoy the tournament, I enjoy life. I don’t think about the end result. I just enjoy the match in front of me and whatever happens happens. It’s out of my control. I’ll give it my best anyway. . ”
In the process, she established herself as one of the main challengers to reach the final in the wide open lower half of the draw. In her four matches so far in Paris, Gauff has not dropped a set and she loves the clay like few players from her part of the world; she won the French Open junior title in 2018 and many of her best results have surfaced, including last year’s quarter-final in Paris.
She is already one of the best athletes and movers on the tour, but on clay she is one of the toughest players to put the ball past the surface. “It’s one of my strengths on other surfaces, but I think clay only makes that better. I really enjoy gliding, ”Gauff said Friday. “I think it helps me heal faster after I get to the ball.”
After the intense early months of her career in 2019, the spotlight has shifted to the newest emerging young players. Rather than explode to the top of the game, Gauff made gradual improvements. Along with her speed, her first serve and her defense, she has particularly established herself as an intelligent and resourceful player with diversity to her game. Her forearm, still the biggest hole in her game, has also improved and is particularly effective on clay where its heavy tip, slices and shots fired teased Mertens everywhere.
Turning 18 in March, Gauff was finally able to put aside the school work she had been juggling with her tennis since her appearance on the tour when she graduated from high school. While most students do this from their graduation ceremony, Gauff posted her graduation photos of the Eiffel Tower.
“It was honestly very difficult, just because at least in a grand slam especially I’m more mentally exhausted than physically,” Gauff said of juggling homework and life as a top professional tennis player. “Physically, I can play 20 more games and mentally I’m like, I’m barely getting through this.”
As she goes deep into another grand slam in search of her first semifinal, Gauff now has the advantage of doing so with her focus only on tennis and on learning her growing bank of experience.
“Last year I felt like I was thinking if I could get through that quarter-final, maybe I could win the tournament because I saw the other side open up, and this time coming in I don’t think about it like that,” she said. . “I think, especially if the US Open has taught us anything, anyone can win on any given day.”
One of those protagonists in New York also went further. The 17th seed, Leylah Fernandez, outplayed and outscored Amanda Anisimova, ranked 27, to win 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to reach her second grand slam quarterfinal in Paris.