The French Open is proving to be a stage for the up and coming youngsters of the game, with Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff leading the charge at the tender ages of 20 and 17.
I don’t really care if you guys talk about my age or not. I’m 17. That’s the truth. I promise you, my opponents don’t care about how old I am. They want to beat me just as bad, regardless of my age, and I want to beat them just as bad, regardless of their age. Coco Gauff
They join 21-year old Elena Rybakina, and 23-year olds Tamara Zidansek and Paula Badosa in the quarter-finals where Barbora Krejcikova and Maria Sakkari, both 25, await alongside veteran Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, aged 29.
Gauff kicked off Day 9 at Roland Garros with an impressive 6-3 6-1 win over Tunisian Ons Jabeur that took just 53 minutes, while her next opponent, Krejcikova, who is from the Czech Republic’s, only took an hour 7 minutes to dismiss American Sloane Stephens, 6-2 6-0.
“It means a lot to me, especially as I have lost in the fourth round a couple of times, so it feels good to get over that hurdle,” the American teenager said after her win. “Today I played probably my best match so far in the tournament.
“It definitely does feel different. I just feel like it’s been, I guess professional. I feel like all my matches have been straightforward wins, like no crazy three sets and stuff. As we know, I have had a lot of those in the past.”
Gauff has been in excellent form on the European clay, winning a title in Parma and rising to a career-high ranking of 25 in the world.
Against Jabeur, the No 25 seed, she dominated proceedings, particularly with her serve, which has been a problem at times in the past, dropping just 9 points as she cruised into the last eight, while she was also highly effective at the net, winning 13 of 17 points when she came forward.
So far, she has yet to drop a set in Paris, where she won the junior title three years ago, and she has become a contender for the trophy.
It was a clinical performance, underpinned by sensational serving and, with big names losing left, right and centre, the odds on her winning the title are lowering despite being in the same half of the draw as defending champion Swiatek.
“I just feel like this has been the most consistent tennis I have played at this level,” she added. “Hopefully I can keep that going.
“In the past, I felt like I was satisfied with the run I made in the tournament, so maybe I came into the matches I guess not as hungry, and I know it’s probably not a good thing to say but it’s the truth.
“With a lot of young players, I think we tend to get satisfied with, not small results, but certain results before we realise that we can really shoot for more.
“My message has always been ‘dream big and aim higher’.
“I think that, today, was, honestly, coming from that message of aiming higher, because I could have easily said I’m satisfied with fourth round and everything, but today I think I just came in more hungry and wanting more.”
Jabeur says Gauff is a contender to raise the trophy, either this year or in the future.
“If she’s not going to win it now, she’s probably going to win another time,” the Tunisian said.
Gauff already announced herself as a contender to become the next great American player when she made a run to the fourth round at Wimbledon as a 15-year-old qualifier two years ago and, now, she has gone one step further, becoming the youngest American to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final since Venus Williams at the 1997 US Open, aged 17.
In the last eight, Gauff faces another first-time Grand Slam singles quarter-finalist in Krejcikova, who has been ranked World No 1 in doubles.
“I’m really just focused on the match ahead of me,” said Gauff, who has been relaxing by playing the card game UNO with her family.
“I don’t want to think far. Right now I’m focused on going to sleep tonight and winning the next UNO match and then tomorrow we focus back on practice and then get ready for the quarter-finals.”
Gauff is mature beyond her years, both on and off the court, and seems to find the right answers when facing the media.
Asked whether she gets bored having to talk about her age, Gauff swatted away the question like a seasoned professional: “I don’t really care if you guys talk about my age or not. I’m 17. That’s the truth,” she told a post-match press conference on Monday
“I promise you, my opponents don’t care about how old I am. They want to beat me just as bad, regardless of my age, and I want to beat them just as bad, regardless of their age.
“I’m only going to be 17 once, so you might as well talk about it while I’m 17!”
Gauff is now one of 6 first-time Grand Slam quarter-finalists in the women’s draw, a record for the Open era, which dates to 1968, with the others being her next opponent, Krejcikova, along with Sakkari, Rybakina, Badosa and Zidansek.
Marta Kostyuk was trying to become the 7th, but she lost to 2020 champion Iga Swiatek 6-3 6-4 on Monday night.
Swiatek takes her 22-set French Open winning streak into a quarter-final against the 17th-seeded Sakkari, who eliminated last year’s runner-up, Sofia Kenin, 6-1 6-3.
Meanwhile, Krejcikova advanced by trouncing 2018 French Open finalist and 2017 US Open champ Sloane Stephens with the loss of just 2 games.
The Czech underlined her status as a triple threat at Roland Garros, having also reached the quarters of the women’s doubles and mixed doubles events.
Her all-court prowess delivered a tactical masterclass, winning 82% of her first serve points and saving all 3 break points she faced.
Krejcikova returned after the tour shutdown last August ranked 114, but is a former doubles World No 1 who has won both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018 alongside Katerina Siniakova, but who had yet to crack the Top 100 in singles.
A fourth-round run at Roland Garros in October opened the door to a long-awaited singles breakthrough and, this year, she reached her first WTA 1000 final in Dubai in March, scored her first two Top 10 wins, over Sofia Kenin in Rome and Elina Svitolina in the third round here, and picked up her maiden WTA singles title a week ago in Strasbourg.
Krejcikova said that playing a series of exhibition matches in the Czech Republic during the shutdown had been a key confidence boost ahead of this surge.
“I played all the top girls, because Czech nation we have so many good, top players,” she said. “I had the opportunity to play against them, to watch them how they practice, to watch how they prepare for the matches and everything.
“I think there was something that helped me for sure because I was outside top 100, and I felt I can actually play with all these girls – but, you know, just my ranking wasn’t there. I wasn’t able to actually play the same tournaments.”
On her way to holding for 5-1 in the first set, Krejcikova drew Stephens forward with a drop-shot before triumphing in a rat-a-tat net exchange then, in the second game of the next set, she reset a point with a pin-point lob before finishing it with another drop-shot.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing to actually say out loud my tactic,” Krejcikova said. “Because I’m still in this tournament and also for upcoming tournaments, I don’t really think it’s good. I don’t know if I’m gonna say anything close.
“But I was just thinking I have to play my game, I have to be aggressive, because I was expecting she’s gonna play high, really topspin balls. And it was actually happening. And then I just think that I was playing smarter.”
Despite her controlled performance and cool exterior, Krejcikova confessed she had suffered a serious bout of nerves ahead of the match.
“I woke up and I just felt really bad,” she said. “I just felt really stressed.
“I don’t know why or what for. Half an hour before the match, I didn’t even want to step on the court. I had to lock myself in the physio room and I had to talk to my psychologist.
“I was actually crying. I just felt really, really bad, and I don’t know why. It just happened.
“We talked about it a lot, and she told me, ‘You know, if you can overcome this, what you feel right now, it’s going to be a huge win. 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 went there on the court, and I know that it didn’t look like it, but I just felt really, really bad. I was just happy that I started well. I think after the first point, things got a little bit better, a little bit easier.
“Then I broke her. I just felt like, yeah, you know, I can actually play her.
“I think I was just more stressed that I’m just not gonna be good enough. I think that’s what happened.”
Stephens had defeated two of Krejcikova’s compatriots, No 9 seed Karolina Pliskova and No 18 seed Karolina Muchova, to reach the fourth round, but found a third straight Czech win a bridge too far.
Out-manoeuvred and flummoxed by Krejcikova’s disguise and changes of pace from the baseline, the American coughed up 26 unforced errors to just 9 winners.
“There is a lot of good things going for me,” Stephens said. “I have strung a lot of matches together.
“It’s going in the right direction, so I can’t get too down about this. I just have to brush it off and move on to the next.”`