'Hungry' Coco cruises into maiden Slam quarter-final

The American pushed past Ons Jabeur to become the youngest Grand Slam quarter-finalist in 15 years.

Coco Gauff, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

At the Grand Slams, owning the moment is an art form.

On Monday in Paris, 17-year-old Coco Gauff was an artist in full flight on Court Philippe-Chatrier. 

In a battle of former Roland-Garros junior champions, the precocious American brushed aside Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-1 in 53 minutes to become the youngest Grand Slam quarter-finalist since 2006, and the youngest American to reach the last eight in Paris since Jennifer Capriati in 1993. 

Reigning on the red dirt

A revelation on the clay this spring, the 24th-seeded Gauff stretched her current career-best winning streak to nine matches and improved to 16-3 on the clay in 2021, a win-loss record made even more remarkable by the fact that the talented Floridian had contested just four WTA-level matches on the clay prior to 2021. 

Gauff will face another first-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist, Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, in the quarter-finals.

Ever the eager student of the game, Gauff says her clay game is still very much a work in progress, and in her press conference on Monday she confessed to reporters that clay was her third-favourite surface.

Could have fooled everybody.

"I'm going to always still be learning no matter how many matches I win," Gauff said of her improvement on the terre battue. "But for me, it's just being patient and shot selection, I think, is really important on clay because you're not going to have too many outright winners on clay just because it's slower and gives more time for your opponent to get the ball."


Gauff explained that variety is another aspect of her game that continues to steadily improve.

"I think clay is probably the surface you can use the whole court the most, and I think it's important that I continue to mix up how I play so my opponents don't really know what to expect," she said.

Whatever her surface of preference, Gauff's last-16 triumph marks another giant stride in the evolution of her mentality.

On Monday she gave clear-as-day proof that she possesses an X-factor - the ability to deliver elevated tennis in the most important moments at the majors. 

Gauff says that the key was her hunger, and it is something she admitted to lacking in her two previous fourth-round appearances at the Slams, at Wimbledon in 2019 and the Australian Open in 2020.

Coco Gauff, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

"I think I was just more hungry for it," she explained. "I feel like in the past, I felt like I was satisfied with the run I made in the tournament, so maybe I feel like 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," she confessed.

"I think with a lot of young players we tend to get satisfied with the small results - not small results but certain results - before we realise that we can really shoot for more."

Gauff was shooting for victory from first ball against Jabeur, and never let up. Lights-out serving set the tone as Gauff dropped just nine points on serve and was never taken to deuce by the Tunisian No.25 seed.

"I think she never served like this before," Jabeur said after the match.

Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT


Yet to drop a set on the Parisian clay, Gauff is looking the part of an established veteran in Paris this year. Mission-centric and poised, she doesn’t seem to be in over her head in the least. 

“Does she look 17 to you?” Tennis Channel commentator Ted Robinson asked Lindsay Davenport during the broadcast, almost puzzled.

Just three years ago, Gauff was in Paris as a junior, where she became the youngest player to claim the girls’ singles title since Martina Hingis in 1993. 

Since then she has soaked up experience like a sponge. Just two players - Ashleigh Barty and Aryna Sabalenka - have earned more tour-level victories than Gauff in 2021, but neither of them is still standing in the draw in Paris. 

“I just feel like I’m getting better and better with each match, and that’s kind of how I want it to happen," Gauff said after her third-round victory over Jennifer Brady. "I think that you can tell that I’m improving and making smarter decisions on the court.”

'Dream big and aim higher'

Jabeur scored a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Gauff in April on green clay in Charleston, but the American proved too difficult to solve on Monday, as she dominated the centre of the court and rendered the Tunisian’s trademark craft ineffective with an assertive display of first-strike tennis. 

It was a victory that clearly states the intentions of the youngest woman remaining in the draw. During her first two trips to the second week at majors, she was just happy to be there. This time, she's hungry for more.

"My message has always been 'dream big and aim higher'," she said. "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 compared to my last times I have been in the fourth round."