The Washington Post
American Coco Gauff goes down in the quarterfinals. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic move on.
There was plenty for Coco Gauff to regret in her quarterfinal defeat Wednesday at the French Open: the five set points she failed to convert in the opening set, her seven double-faults and the three swift thwacks of her racket against the court in frustration that destroyed the frame in the process.
But when faced with a bleak situation, Gauff fought back — fending off five match points before succumbing to unseeded Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced to the semifinals with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 upset in Paris.
“I never want to give up, and today I really did fight until the last point,” Gauff, 17, said during her post-match news conference. “I think losing these matches is going to pay off in the future. If I continue fighting like this, other players, maybe if they do have the lead, will start to get nervous because they know I’m not going to give in.”
Gauff, the No. 24 seed, was the last American standing at the claycourt classic. And with nine of the top 10 women’s seeds ousted, she faced a golden opportunity to reach a Grand Slam semifinal. It was an opportunity Gauff had earned, vanquishing all four previous opponents in straight sets with powerful strokes and poise beyond her years.
But her biggest opponent in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal came in the form of nerves that were reflected, she explained later, in playing too passively on critical points — a mistake she does not intend to make twice.
“I think next time, going into it, I’m definitely going to focus more on making less errors, just trusting myself on the set points,” said Gauff, who complimented Krejcikova, 25, on winning the “pressure points” and playing high-percentage tennis that ultimately coaxed too many errors (41 unforced to Krejcikova’s 28). “I feel like [on] the set points I did have, I did play a little bit passive.
“That’s not kind of how I want to play tennis. I always want to play first-strike tennis.”
Among the positives in Gauff ’s deep run at Roland Garros was that she clinched a spot in the Tokyo Olympics, which had been among her goals at the season’s outset. She confirmed after Wednesday’s loss that she intends to compete in Tokyo, without concern or reservation.
Gauff, who is from Delray Beach, Fla., burst onto the global sporting stage at Wimbledon in 2019, the last time the grass-court classic was staged. Just 15, she toppled her idol, Venus Williams, in the first round and won twice more to reach the fourth round, where she fell to eventual champion Simona Halep.
More confident and consistent at 17, Gauff signaled her readiness to contend at Roland Garros earlier this year, winning both the singles and doubles titles (the latter with Caty Mcnally) on the same day at a clay-court tournament in Parma, Italy.
She arrived at the Parisian claycourt complex, where she had won the French Open junior title just three years earlier, seeded at a major for the first time by virtue of being ranked a career-high 25th.
Her quarterfinal against Krejcikova was the first match on the tournament’s main court Wednesday.
Both players struggled with
their service toss throughout — a product of nerves rather than wind on a day with no perceptible gusts.
Gauff broke serve at her first opportunity to take a 3-0 lead, but Krejcikova steadied herself to draw even.
Up another break, Gauff served for the set at 5-3 but doubled-faulted and got broken. She wasted no time or energy chiding herself but battled on through an errorstrewn tiebreaker.
A backhand into the net scuttled her second set point. And so it went, with Gauff ’s untimely errors and double faults, combined with Krejcikova’s resolve, handing the first set to Krejcikova.
Krejcikova, playing more freely, varied pace and placement deftly, and the second set sped by.
The crowd tried to rally Gauff as she stepped up to serve, trailing 0-3. But after being broken at love on her seventh double-fault, she smashed her racket in a rare display of frustration.
Still, she didn’t make it easy for her 33rd-ranked opponent, who was also playing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. At 0-5 and Love-40, Gauff fended off three match points in succession. Then she won the next three games before Krejcikova closed the match.
Gauff ’s focus now turns to
Wimbledon, which requires a quick and tricky transition from clay-court tactics to grass.
“I’m excited to go back, for sure,” Gauff said. “That was one of my first matches on a big stadium like that, playing against really great people like Venus Williams. It kind of just was the start of my career, I guess, and making it on the pro tour.”
Sakkari, Nadal, Djokovic win
When one last forehand from defending champion Iga Swiatek landed wide, Maria Sakkari crouched on Court Philippe Chatrier and bowed her head, relishing the moment.
Sakkari is still two wins away from lifting the trophy, but her 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal victory means she’s already in new territory — just like the other three women left in the draw.
Sakkari ended Swiatek’s 11-match and 22-set winning streaks at Roland Garros to guarantee there will be a first-time Grand Slam champion Saturday.
“This year I proved [to] myself that I’m actually playing really good,” said Sakkari, 25, who can become Greece’s first Grand Slam singles champion.
On Thursday, the 17th-seeded Sakkari plays unseeded Krejcikova in the semifinals, and No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova faces unseeded Tamara Zidansek. All four are making their Slam semifinal debuts.
This is only the second time in the professional era that there have been four first-time semifinalists at any major tournament, according to the Women’s Tennis Association. It also happened at the 1978 Australian Open.
In the men’s quarterfinals, 13-time champion Rafael Nadal’s streak of sets won at Roland Garros ended at 36, but he quickly recovered to defeat Diego Schwartzman, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Nadal’s semifinal foe will be No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who got past Matteo Berrettini, 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (7-5), 7-5 in a night match.