Coco Gauff mostly fought a tough fight in the early stages of a fourth round duel on Court Philippe Chatrier. Having lost her serve early, every time she broke to tie the set, she quickly dropped her serve again. Countless long rallies of attrition ensued against one of the tour’s most consistent players, Elise Mertens, and the close duel was reflected in the tension radiating from Goof Candy’s mother in the stands.
But one trait that Gauff can benefit from now is her growing experience. In her third season of Tours, she’s been in a few of these positions before, and instead of her early carefree pace, she’s now benefitting from learning from past experiences.
After those early stages, Gauff, the 18th seed, fell far behind Mertens. Her shrewdness, defense and injection of rhythm on her back were too much for the 31st seed Belgium. Gauff reached her second quarter-final in Paris with a 6-4, 6-0 victory.
Goff said, “I’m really enjoying the tournament, I enjoy life. I don’t think about the bottom line. I just enjoy the game in front of me and whatever happens. Above my ability. I’ll do my best either way.”
In doing so, she established herself as one of the top contenders to reach the final in the wide open bottom half of the drag. Gauff has never lost a group in her four matches in Paris and loves mud like few players in her part of the world do; She won the junior title at the 2018 French Open and featured many of her best results, including the quarter-finals in Paris last year.
She is indeed one of the best athletes and movers on the tour, but on clay she is one of the toughest to pass the ball to the surface. “It’s one of my strengths on the other surfaces, but I think the mud reinforces that. I think it helps me recover faster after getting the ball,” Gough said on Friday.
After the intense first months of their career in 2019, the spotlight has shifted to the latest upcoming young players. Instead of blasting to the top of the game, Gauff has been making incremental improvements. In addition to her speed, first serve and defence, she has proven herself above all else as an intelligent and resourceful player who enjoys a varied game. Her forehand hit, still the biggest gap in her game, has also improved, and she’s particularly effective on mud, where powerful overhead vortices, slides and downward shots have consistently irritated Mertens.
Gough turned 18 in March and was finally able to give up the schoolwork she had been fiddling with her tennis since she appeared on tour after graduating from high school. While most students do it from their graduation party, Goff posted pictures of her graduation from the Eiffel Tower.
“Honestly, it was very difficult, precisely because I am more tired mentally than I am physically, at least in a Grand Slam,” Gauff said of balancing school work and life as a top professional tennis player. “Physically I can still play 20 games and mentally I can’t beat it.”
As she delves into other major tournaments in search of her first semi-final, Gauff now has the advantage of focusing solely on tennis and learning from her growing experience.
“While I thought last year I could have made it through the quarter-finals, maybe I could have won the championship because I saw the other team open up, and this time I don’t think about it too much,” she said. “I think especially if the US Open taught us anything, anyone could win any day.”
One of those heroes in New York also moved. The 17th seed, Laila Fernandez, beat 27th seed Amanda Anisimova to win 6-3 4-6 6-3 to advance to the quarter-finals of her Grand Slam in Paris.