Day 9 Diary: Coco gets Nick Fury's seal of approval

 - Chris Oddo

2022 runner-up takes inspiration from a legend of the silver screen

Coco Gauff, huitièmes de finale, Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Monday brought more idyllic weather to Paris, and another resplendent day of tennis at Roland-Garros, where the men's and women's singles quarter-final line-ups were completed as juniors and doubles continued to entertain around the grounds.

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Gauff backed by a marvel

The ever talented Coco Gauff is used to receiving nods from celebrities and famous figures, ever since she exploded onto the tour as a 15-year-old upsetting Venus Williams en route to the Wimbledon fourth round. That doesn't make it any less cool though each time it happens.

The 19-year-old Floridian, who returned to the Roland-Garros quarter-finals for a third straight year with victory over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova on Monday, has been getting congratulatory tweets from Hollywood star Samuel L. Jackson after each round here in Paris and as a big Marvel fan, Gauff is understandably giddy about it.

"Samuel L. Jackson is a legend. I really appreciate, I saw that tweet, and I freaked out a little bit," confessed Gauff on Monday.

"I remember he tweeted about me before during the whole Wimbledon run and that was a cool moment for me. It's cool to say Nick Fury knows I exist."

History for Brazil and Bia

Since charismatic Guga Kuerten graced the Roland-Garros grounds with his presence, and became one of the tournaments' most-loved icons by winning titles in 1997, 2000 and 2001, Paris has waited to welcome its next Brazilian hero.

Enter Beatriz Haddad Maia, who scratched and clawed her way through a three hour and 51-minute battle with Sara Sorribes Tormo on Court Suzanne-Lenglen on Monday to become the first woman from her country to reach the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros since Maria Bueno in 1968.

It's the longest women's match of the year so far and it saw Haddad Maia break new ground for herself and her country.

“Guga is an idol for me,” she said in her on-court interview. "When he won Roland-Garros the first time I was one year old, but for sure I grew up playing on clay hearing his name, and he’s a very nice guy. He’s a very important person for us and I got inspired by him as well, I had the chance to meet him when I practiced in the south of Brasil. I’m very happy that he supports us as well – he’s my idol.”

After falling behind by a set and 3-0, Haddad Maia rallied back from the brink to capture the final six games of the middle set. The decider was a wild ride, with the 27-year-old needing four match points to finally lock up the hard-fought triumph.

“I think the key is to try to play every single point – doesn’t matter what the score is," she said. "I tried to think in a positive way, try to think that if I’m feeling nervous my opponent also is feeling it."

Haddad-Maia, who faces Ons Jabeur next, is also the first woman from Brazil to reach the last eight of a major since the 1968 US Open.

Ons the trailblazer

These days, it wouldn't be a Grand Slam without a shot of history from Tunisia's Ons Jabeur.

On Monday, the 28-year-old rocked past Bernarda Pera 6-3, 6-1 to reach her maiden Roland-Garros quarter-final, making her the first African player - male or female - to reach the singles quarter-final stage at each of the four Grand Slams in the Open Era.

Playing for Tunisia - and for her legions of fans - has always been a constant source of pride and motivation for Jabeur.

"It is an honour and a pleasure to embody my country and to push my limits," she said. "I see a lot of people coming here who actually paid a very expensive flight ticket or who are actually waking up very early in the morning to watch a game, and I try to use that to draw upon this."

A massive Cristiano Ronaldo fan, Jabeur, of course, did the star footballer's famous 'Siu' celebration the moment she walked off court and reunited with her team.

Celebrating Noah's Brilliance

June 5 - remember the day...

It has been 40 years to the day since Yannick Noah stunned Mats Wilander on Court Philippe-Chatrier to become the first French man to win Roland-Garros since 1946. And 40 years later, Noah remains the last French man to have hoisted the Coupe des Mousquetaires, making his extraordinary feat all the more revered by the public.

"Apart from my children's birth, it's the most beautiful day of my life," Noah told reporters last week during a press conference at Roland-Garros. "It's the most beautiful day of my life, as I said, and I'm full of gratitude for the tour I have had. I'm very happy that this is on film, this has been filmed. With time, I realise that every time I watch these images, I feel a strong emotion."

To commemorate the occasion, partake in our special tribute video to Noah below.

Blockx feeling confident in Paris

Belgium's Alexander Blockx, fresh off his first junior title at the Australian Open in January, is bidding to become the first junior to win the opening two Slams of the season since Gael Monfils in 2004.

The tall and powerful Antwerp native admits that he feels a bit different as he makes his second appearance in the boys' draw at Roland-Garros.

"I have this feeling that everyone is kind of playing free against me, like they have nothing to lose" he said on Monday after dispatching Morocco's Reda Bennani 6-1, 6-0 on Court 8. "I am kind of the favourite to win here, you can say, but yesterday and today I am just trying to enjoy the matches and I think that’s the key to perform, win and get a good feeling.” 

Alexander Blockx, boys' singles, second round, Roland-Garros 2023© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT

The 18-year-old Belgian has also been keeping tabs on the men's event and he thinks that Carlos Alcaraz is the man to beat in Paris this year.

“I think Alcaraz, he impresses the most, just how good he is overall," he said. "I think he is definitely the favourite to win this Grand Slam."

What impresses Blockx the most about Alcaraz's game?

"Everything. His mentality. His physicality. His power – just everything is impressive.”

Big upsets hit junior draw

Heavy was the head that wore the crown on Monday across the junior singles draws. Both top seeds were knocked off their perch in second-round action, with 15-year-old American Darwin Blanch taking out No.1-seeded Rodrigo Pacheco Mendez of Mexico 6-2, 7-5, while top-seeded Sarah Saito of Japan fell to Turkey's Melisa Ercan, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3.

Melisa Ercan, girls' singles, second round, Roland-Garros 2023© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Ercan, who trains in Australia, reaches the third round at a girls' Slam for the first time.

"I think I was mentally pretty good today, that's what I'm proud of," the 17-year-old said on Monday. "I don't care who I'm playing, which ranking they have, I just need to play my best."

Branch, the younger brother of ATP player Ulises, trains at the Juan Carlos Fererro Academy in Spain.

"I've always wanted to be [play Roland-Garros], and it's honestly a dream to be here," said Branch. "Winning a round, especially beating the top seed, is amazing."

Shot of the day

He didn't get the win against Holger Rune but Francisco Cerundolo walks away with 'Shot of the Day' honours thanks to this gem.