Coco Gauff won the battle of the teenagers at the Emilia-Romagna Open in Param, Italy, on Thursday when the 17-year American took out her 19-year old fellow countrywoman Amanda Anisimova, 6-3 6-3, and will take on Katerina Siniakova for a place in the final, while Qiang Wang upset 2nd-seeded Petra Martic, 7-6(4) 3-6 7-5, in a match lasting three hours, and plays Sloane Stephens next.
In the second set, I was actually missing a lot of balls in the first 3 games. I think I lost like 7 or 8 points in a row, and then I, honestly, decided to go for bigger targets, and just focus on hitting the ball deeper instead of trying to hit winners. Coco Gauff
“I was pretty satisfied with the way I played,” Gauff told the press, after the match. “I do think I could have served a little bit better, but other than that, I was pretty happy with the way I played today.”
The No 3 seed prevailed over the 5th seed after an hour and 20 minutes, winning an impressive 18 of 30 first-serve return points to break her countrywoman 6 times and marking the pair’s first match as professionals, having last met in the 2017 US Open junior girls’ final when a 16-year-old Anisimova overpowered a 13-year-old Gauff.
Gauff, who has now won 18 of her last 24 matches on tour and improved to 5-2 in WTA quarter-finals in her career, had to come back from 3-0 down in the second set.
Anisimova twice held the upper hand in the opening set, leading by a break at 2-1 and 3-2, but Gauff pulled back to level both times, refusing to let the older of the two run away with her advantage.
Gauff continued to put pressure on Anisimova with heavy returns, breaking serve for a 3rd straight time to lead 5-3 when a hard-hitting game by both followed and a backhand winner by Gauff at 30-30 gave her a set point on which Anisimova misfired on the return to hand her the one-set lead.
Anisimova built an even bigger lead in the second, taking advantage of an error-prone game by Gauff that included 2 double-faults to break, and consolidated for 3-0 but, again, Gauff methodically pulled her way back, firing a forehand winner to complete her return to parity at 3-3.
Gauff then won the last 6 games of the match, sweeping through the latter stages of the set, and while Anisimova staved off 3 match points at 5-3, Gauff garnered a 4th with a deep return to force a netted error.
Anisimova’s strike wide in the next point, gave Gauff the win in the first WTA meeting between the two.
“In the second set, I was actually missing a lot of balls in the first 3 games,” Gauff said, “I think I lost like 7 or 8 points in a row, and then I, honestly, decided to go for bigger targets, and just focus on hitting the ball deeper instead of trying to hit winners.”
Gauff has now reached successive semi-finals, following her first final-four appearance at a WTA 1000 event last week in Rome.
With her performance this week, the 17-year-old has leap-frogged both Jessica Pegula and Alison Riske in the rankings to become the No 5-ranked American and, in so doing, has increased her hopes of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, where up to 4 singles players per country can be nominated.
The cut-off for the Olympics will be determined after Roland Garros, with Madison Keys currently occupying the No 4 position.
Gauff will now take on Siniakova in the semi-finals, who continued her stellar week in Parma with another upset of a seeded player, defeating No 8 seed Caroline Garcia from France, 7-5 6-1.
Siniakova started the week by defeating another rising teenager, Clara Tauson from Denmark, in the first round, then stunned top seed Serena Williams on Tuesday.
The Czech now has 3 straight-set wins under her belt coming into her semi-final showdown with Gauff, who defeated her in straight sets in their only previous meeting, which came on indoor hardc ourts in Ostrava last autumn.
“She’s definitely a very tricky player, she uses a lot of variety in her shots,” Gauff observed. “We’re both familiar with each other’s games, and it should be a good match.”
Another American, Sloane Stephens, also swept into the semi-finals on Thursday, as the 2017 US Open champion defeated homeland hope Sara Errani, 6-3 6-0, in a battle between former Top 5 players.
Former World No 3 Stephens needed an hour and 25 minutes to dispatch Errani, a former World No 5 and the 2012 Roland Garros runner-up.
“I’ve been building, I’ve been stringing some matches together, which is nice,” Stephens, a former US Open champion, said in an on-court interview, after her win. “Happy to be in the semi-finals this year and just keep building.”
It is her first semi-final showing on tour since a run to the final 4 in Madrid two years ago.
Stephens, who found herself ranked No 65 coming into this week, has now put together a solid string of victories, outclassing Caty McNally and upstaging No 4 seed Daria Kasatkina in the process.
The American fired 26 winners in the encounter, compared to just 10 by Errani, and eased to victory by breaking the Italian’s serve 6 times, collecting the last 8 games of the match to take a 2-1 lead in their head-to-head.
Stephens now faces No 6 seed Wang Qiang in the semi-finals after the Chinese upset the 2nd-seeded Petra Martic from Croatia, 7-6(4) 3-6 7-5, in a 3-hour barn-burner.
The final set took over an hour and featured 7 breaks of serve before 48th-ranked Wang held onto her serve at the end of the affair to clinch her second win in two meetings against the World No.23.
“It was a really tough match, I am very happy to win this,” Wang said in her post-match on-court interview.
This is the 29-year old’s first trip to a WTA semi-final since she made the final 4 at the Bronx in August 2019.
Six of Wang’s 25 winners were aces, as she converted 5 of her whopping 16 break points to pull through the topsy-turvy marathon, while Martic, who is coming off of her season-best run to the Rome semi-finals last week, was undone by 41 unforced errors.