Gauff returns to RG fourth round

On Court Suzanne-Lenglen, the youngest player remaining in the women's draw took out the oldest

Cori Gauff, Roland-Garros 2022, Simple Dames, 3eme TourNicolas Gouhier / FFT
 - Chris Oddo

American teenager Coco Gauff has a way of making her elders feel... well, old.

The 18-year-old wasn't even born when Estonia's Kaia Kanepi won the Roland-Garros girls' singles title in 2001.

Seventeen years later, Gauff would win the same prestigious title, and on Friday in Paris - voila - the pair of former junior champions were pitted against one another in a generational battle on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

The 18th-seeded Gauff, the youngest player remaining in the women's singles draw and a quarter-finalist last year, worked her way past 36-year-old Kanepi, 6-3, 6-4 to book a fourth-round clash with No.20 seed Elise Mertens.

Story of the match

Skies threatened as the players took the court to begin play just before 2:00pm local time, but there was no rain - only the thunder of Kanepi's groundstrokes, which immediately signalled her intent for the afternoon.

The Estonian has never been a finesser of the ball, but Gauff, fleet-footed as they come, was unperturbed.

Having delivered a victory in their only previous contest, on the clay in Parma, the American was content to read and react as she probed the defences of the world No.46. Her efforts were soon rewarded as Gauff, who dropped serve in the opening game, raced away with five games on the trot to lead 5-1 in first set.

Though she failed to serve the set out on the first attempt, Gauff rose to the occasion on her second chance, closing out the the 41-minute stanza with an uncomplicated hold, 6-3.

Gauff may not have held the advantage in weight of shot against Kanepi, but the American used cunning court craft to tilt the score in her favour. There were changes in pace, trajectory, drop shots and lobs - Gauff clearly intent on not letting the Estonian gain any comfort on her baseline.

Coco Gauff, 3e tour, Roland-Garros 2022©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Gauff's court coverage played a starring role as well as she forced Kanepi to hit for smaller targets as the match progressed.

In the end the teenager conducted a masterclass in how to probe an opponent and take her off her game. Gauff shrunk the court and tossed everything but the kitchen sink at Kanepi.

Kanepi, to her credit, fought valiantly to keep it close, rallying from 2-0 down in the second set, but Gauff continued weaving her web and catching the two-time Roland-Garros quarter-finalist off-stride as she took three of the final four games, closing the contest with a hold to love to book her spot in the round of 16 in Paris for the second straight year.

Key stats

Gauff's strategy, buoyed by patience and court coverage, paid off over the course of the 83-minute contest.

Kanepi's booming power still took her to a winner count of 22, against 20 for Gauff, but the Estonian committed 29 errors against just 13 for the American.

Gauff's ability to make Kanepi miss was the most important ingredient for her victory.

But the American showed her ability to be the aggressor as well. Her multi-dimensional game is part of what makes her such a force on the surface.

Gauff cracked six aces and won 46 of 74 points that went four strokes or less - a massive advantage when one considers the fact that the average rally in the match lasted just over five strokes.

With her win, Gauff improves to 8-2 lifetime at Roland-Garros and 25-9 on the clay.

What the players said

Coco Gauff: "I knew today going in was going to be a tough match. She beat Muguruza first round. She's a tough player before and I played her before in the past and we had a close two-set match - I knew today was going to be close."

"I've been coming to France since I was 10 years old, so I think that helped me, I was training a lot at Mouratoglou Academy when I was younger, and even now, so I guess that makes me a clay-court - I don't want to say specialist, but I'm good at it."

Kaia Kanepi: "I tried to be aggressive. I think that's what I'm supposed to do. And I think I just made a bit too many errors today and I think she played really well and she was better today I think in every aspect of the match.

"She was aggressive and then she played long points and it was really tough to figure out how the way to win a point."

Kaia Kanepi, Roland Garros 2022, third round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT