Gauff breaks new ground on major stage

Teenager claims all-American showdown to reach first Grand Slam semi-final

Coco Gauff, Roland Garros 2022, quarter-final© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

American teenager Coco Gauff will vie for her maiden Grand Slam final after denying compatriot Sloane Stephens at Roland-Garros on Tuesday.

The 18-year-old’s 7-5, 6-2 victory over the 2017 US Open champion earned her a last-four showdown against fellow first-time major semi-finalist Martina Trevisan, who defeated Gauff en route to quarters in Paris in 2020.

The only time the Gauff and Stephens had met previously came in the opening round at Flushing Meadows last year, when Hurricane Ida was bearing down above and Stephens stormed to a straight-sets result.

On Tuesday, it was a far more composed and consistent Gauff who weathered a late first-set resurgence to reverse the result in 90 minutes and become the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist since Amanda Anisimova in Paris three years ago.

Coco Gauff, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Dames, 1/4 de Finale Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Story of the match

Gauff was already the first teenager since Nicole Vaidisova in 2007 to reach two Grand Slam quarter-finals before her 19th birthday.

Last year, the teenager was the youngest major quarter-finalist in 15 years in Paris before eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova saw her off and despite having failed to reach a quarter-final since Doha in February, she had hit a hot streak on her return to the terre battue.

Yet to drop a set in four rounds this fortnight, the 18th-seeded Gauff burst out of the blocks against a sluggish opponent to open up a 5-2 lead.

Serving to stay in the set, Stephens muttered in frustration at keeping the ball too short, which allowed her younger compatriot to dictate all too often.

The 29-year-old - a finalist in Paris in 2018 - muttered “better” after eking out a hold to keep the set alive and piled on the pressure when she painted the baseline on her way to snatching back one of the breaks.

After a remarkably slow start she had let the fearless youngster know she had a match on her hands and a wonderfully disguised, cleanly struck off-forehand winner was a categorical statement as Stephens fist-pumped her way to 5-all.

All the good work she had done to fight her way back into contention was quickly undone on an erratic string of misses and Gauff sealed the set at the 41-minute mark on an off-backhand winner.

Stephens desperately had to rediscover her mojo before the match slipped away and she looked back in sheer disbelief at her box when she missed a routine forehand volley on her way to a 1-5 deficit.

An error-strewn second set became a battle of which player could hold their nerve and after a nervous attempt to serve it out, it was a steadier Gauff who set a showdown with unseeded Italian Trevisan.

Sloane Stephens, Roland-Garros 2022, quarter-finals©Julien Crosnier / FFT

Key stats

In an often times erratic contest, Stephens’ struck eight more unforced errors than her opponent’s 23 and two fewer winners than Gauff's 18.

She was passed 10 times and Gauff’s 12 drop shots proved particularly effective at changing up her rhythm.

Gauff served faster and heavily targeted Stephens’ second deliveries, winning 11 of those 13 points.

The teenager was far more effective in the shorter rallies, winning 14 points more than Stephens’ 16 in rallies under five shots.

What the winner said

“I feel so happy right now. Words can’t explain. Last year in the quarter-final it was a tough loss for me. I think that match made me stronger, to better prepare for moments like today and the moments I’ll face in the next round.

“Last time I played her I lost so I’m glad that today went different. Honestly, I told myself to stay mentally there. I know that there were going to be some shots that probably should have been made and there's going to be some shots that she'd get in the court that probably no other player would get in the court.

“I think it was just a mental challenge today. I mean, yeah, I believe in myself but I think even last year I was too focused on trying to fulfil other people’s expectations. I think you should just enjoy life.”