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Why Gauff is ready for Stephens this time around

Why Gauff is ready for Stephens this time around

Before this French Open, Coco Gauff celebrated a non-tennis milestone, posing in her high school graduation cap and gown in front of the Eiffel Tower. After four years of home schooling in the Florida Virtual Flex program, she showed off her diploma in a series of shots posted on Instagram. Naomi Osaka and Michelle Obama were among those who left congratulatory notes.

Gauff, it seems, has been in our consciousness for an eternity. But in point of fact, she’s only 18 years old – the youngest player left in the draw. after year emphatic 6-4, 6-0 victory against Elise Mertens launched her into a second consecutive Roland Garros quarterfinal, Gauff was asked for a midterm report.

“Today in the first set I had a lot of points that I probably should have closed out, and made some errors on balls that I probably shouldn’t have,” Gauff said to reporters. “I just stayed in it. To make it to the top of the class, I think just keep doing what I’m doing and not freaking out in those moments.

“I think that was the biggest lesson I learned last year in my quarterfinal match, I had a couple set points and I think I freaked out when some of those points didn’t go my way. Today I didn’t freak out when a couple of those important points didn’t go my way.”

The education of the No.18 seed continues Tuesday in a match against fellow American Sloane Stephens. No.17 seed Leylah Fernandez, the other teenager in bottom half of the draw, plays Martina Trevisan in the other quarterfinal.

Stephens trailed No.23 Jil Teichmann 2-0 in Sunday’s fourth-round match – and proceeded to win the last dozen games. This wasn’t an anomaly. She did the same thing to Sorana Cirstea in the second round, rallying from 2-0 down in the second set to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-0. Stephens lost three points in the second set against Teichmann, and it was over in 65 minutes.

French Open: scores | order of play | Draw

Hard to believe Stephens, 29, came into Paris on a five-match losing streak. Now she’s reached her first Grand Slam final in three years and is the only major champion left in bottom half, one of two (Iga Swiatek) to reach the fourth round.

In their only previous meeting against Gauff, Stephens was a straight-sets winner in the second round of last year’s US Open.

“Last time I played her, I was super nervous going into the match,” Gauff said. “Not because it was Sloane. Just because we were on [Arthur] Ashe [Court] and it was all-American matchup. I think a lot of people expected a lot from me in that match. Yeah, going in, if I do play her, just going to approach it like any other match.”

This is the first time Gauff has won four consecutive matches since last year’s quarterfinal run. It ended with a loss to eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova. Gauff has already amassed a formidable 73-39 record (.652) in WTA-level matches, but her best results have been on clay. She’s 26-9 with a sparkling winning percentage of .743. She was the 2018 Roland Garros junior champion.

“I think growing up knowing her, I knew we were going to play each other eventually,” Gauff said of Stephens. “I was young, I had a very competitive mindset since I was a little girl. If I do play against her the second time hopefully this time it goes my way.”

No.17 Leylah Fernandez vs. Martina Trevisan

This is one of those wonderfully quirky, first-time matchups that tennis so often manages to produce. How often do you see two left-handers squaring off this late in a major?

“We don’t have many left-handers on tour,” Fernandez said, “so I think it will be a tricky match, like every single match is going to be tricky. We are just going to have to find solutions, just find a way to play against a left-hander.”

Trevisan, 28 and Florence-born, turned professional in 2008, when Fernandez was only 5 years old. And yet, the 19-year-old from Canada is making her ninth Grand Slam appearance – one more than Trevisan, who didn’t crack the year-end Top 100 until two years ago.

Currently ranked a career-high No.59, Trevisan is in the groove of a lifetime. She captured her first WTA-level title a week ago in Rabat, Morocco and has won nine straight matches – eight of them in straight sets. At 5-foot-3, she’s built along the lines of 5-foot-5 Sara Errani, whose nine WTA singles titles, plus 27 in doubles, made her the most prolific female Italian player in history.

Though this third quarter of the draw was loaded with five former major champions, Trevisan found a way through, beating Harriet Dart, Magda Linette, Daria Saville and, in the fourth round, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 7-6(10), 7-5 . The first-set tiebreak in that match was the second-longest (by scoreline) of the year so far in tour-level main draws.

Clearly, Trevisan has found a home on these Parisian courts; nine of her 11 career Grand Slam victories have come at Roland Garros. Two years ago, she advanced to the quarterfinals as a qualifier before falling to eventual champion Iga Swiatek 6-3, 6-1. Trevisan joins Errani (four) and Francesca Schiavone (three) as the only other Italian women to reach multiple quarterfinals.

Overall, 2021 was a forgettable year for Trevisan. She won only three WTA-level matches and finished the year outside the Top 100, playing ITF events in Valencia, Spain, Nantes, France and Funchal, Portugal. As the 2022 season began, Trevisan channeled her 2020 quarterfinal run here.

“I was dreaming this moment, because in myself, in my head, I see again this moment,” she told reporters. “I thought to myself, `Yes, Martina, you can do again. I will like to live again this emotion.’

“I mean, I’m here, so I’m really happy.”

Fernandez, meanwhile, defeated No.27 Amanda Anisimova 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 – to reach the first clay-court quarterfinal of her career and her second in a major. Some in the media have taken to calling her “Clay-lah.”

Last fall, she reached the US Open final before losing to Emma Raducanu. Fernandez, with some devastating return games, has scored 23 service breaks in her first four matches.

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