After graduating from high school online, Coco Gauff is in a new phase of her tennis career, and she’s scoring the occasion at the French Open in her favorite city.
She long had precocious power and speed, which she underscored by reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon aged 15. Three years later, she plays with less exuberance and more patience. And on Tuesday, on the same Philippe Chatrier court where she lost her temper a year ago amid mistakes and obvious frustration, she impressively stayed the course, beating Sloane Stephens, 7-5 , 6-2, to reach his first Grand Slam singles semi-final. .
Gauff, 18 and seeded No. 18, will face Martina Trevisan, an unseeded Italian, who will also play in her first major semi-final. Trevisan beat 17th seed Leylah Fernandez, 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-3 on Tuesday.
“I feel so happy right now; words cannot explain,” Gauff said during his on-court interview. “Last year in the quarter-finals was a tough loss for me, and I think that game really made me stronger, to better prepare me for times like today and the times I will face in the game. next round.”
A year ago, Gauff faced then-unranked doubles specialist Barbora Krejcikova in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and lost, 7-6(6), 6-3. She failed to convert five set points in the first set, committed group unforced errors and uncharacteristically destroyed her racquet with three angry shots on red clay as she fell behind in the second set.
Krejcikova won the title, and Gauff had to overcome her regrets: trying to separate the player from the person, an approach she shared with the crowd after her win over Stephens.
“I believe in myself, but I think when I was young, like even last year, I was a little too focused on meeting other people’s expectations,” she said. “I think you should just enjoy life. I know that no matter how good or bad my career is, I think I’m a great person.
Gauff, who hails from Delray Beach, Florida, has long been identified as a potential superstar, and with good reason. At 13, she was the youngest US Open women’s singles finalist in history. She won the French Open women’s title aged 14, a year before her 2019 breakthrough as a Wimbledon qualifier, where she beat one of her role models, Venus Williams, in her first main draw match. at the All England Club. .
Unlike some teenage prodigies, Gauff did not rush to the top of women’s tennis. Her progress hasn’t been linear, but she’s now in new territory in the last four at Roland-Garros on a gritty surface that perhaps suits her best.
She can extend points like few players in the game with her quickness and defensive skills, and can also finish them off with her formidable two-handed backhand and increasingly with her forehand, long her weakest wing. She was far from perfect against Stephens, scoring 18 winners for 23 unforced errors, including six double faults. But she played the critical points better, rarely opting for a winner from a compromised position. Instead, she patiently worked her way to the opener as the unranked Stephens struggled to maintain consistency, mixing forehand winners with untimely errors and several blunders at net.
Stephens, a former US Open champion, had great success on clay, reaching the French Open final in 2018, where she lost to Simona Halep. But she hadn’t won a match on clay this season before arriving unseeded at Roland Garros.
“I wish I had played better today, but that doesn’t take away from the work she’s done to get here,” Stephens said of Gauff.
Stephens, 29, is now based in the Boston area, but she was long based in South Florida, like Gauff and her family, and knew them well enough to attend Gauff’s 10th birthday party. She has long been a role model for Gauff, and she beat her in the second round of the US Open last year in their only previous meeting on tour.
“I’m glad today was different,” Gauff said. “Honestly, I just told myself to mentally stay there. I knew there were shots I probably should have made and shots she gets on the court that probably no other player gets on the court.