By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 27, 2022
Coco Gauff does not wear a watch on court.
That’s because the 18-year-old Gauff believes the time is now.
In an intriguing clash of the youngest vs. oldest women in the field, Gauff showed guile, grit and variety carving out a 6-3, 6-4 win over 36-year-old Kaia Kanepi at Roland Garros.
The victory vaults Gauff into the fourth round where she’ll face 31st-seeded Belgian Elise Mertens.
It’s been a clean sweep opening week for Gauff, who is through to round three in doubles as well partnering compatriot Jessica Pegula.
“Feeling great. I mean, you know, straight-sets wins on round 3 of a Grand Slam is feeling pretty good,” Gauff told the media in Paris. “I’m glad that, well, singles and doubles, that I think they are both difficult matches in certain moments, and I’m glad that we were able to come on top.”
One year removed from her inspired run to the Roland Garros quarterfinals, Gauff arrived in Paris aiming to complete one mission: Win her maiden major.
“I do not care about defending points or anything really. The goal always is to lift the trophy,” Gauff said.
Contesting just her seventh Grand Slam in Paris last June, Gauff was up 5-3 and held five set points against eventual-Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova with clear sights on the semifinals.
Inexperience and erratic play cost the teenager. Gauff’s two-handed backhand, typically her most reliable stroke, betrayed her at times as she committed 41 unforced errors — 13 more than her opponent — failed to convert on five set points and smashed her Head racquet to the court as she spiraled in a 7 -6 (6), 6-3 quarterfinal loss she concedes stung her.
These days, Gauff says she’s more mature, experienced and complete. Gauff, one of the few top players who consistently plays singles and doubles at tournaments, owns the crackling first serve, jolting court coverage, booming backhand and all-court acumen that play well on clay.
Gauff says she’s embracing the challenge of another second-week run.
“After my quarterfinal match last year, I was really disappointed about it and almost even probably even more disappointed than I was when I lost the first round Australian Open this year,” Gauff said. “Playing, I mean, I think it just gives me more confidence because I know what I’m capable of at this tournament and I think I’m a better player than I was last year. I think I can go even further.”
Opportunity abounds in the bottom half where 17th-seeded Leylah Fernandez, who faces American Amanda Anisimova in the fourth round on Sunday, is the highest-seeded woman still standing.
Seven of the Top 10 women’s seeds failed to survive the third round.
Paris has been the City of Life for Gauff, who celebrated her high school graduation last week tossing her cap in front of the Eiffel Tower.
Four years after Gauff won the Roland Garros’ junior title she believes she’s ready to rule seniors.
“I think that now I feel like mentally I’m in a better place than I was last year,” Gauff said. “Coming into the second week I think sometimes that’s what makes Grand Slams harder is because it is two weeks and there is no other way to prepare for two weeks of playing.
“I think going into my next match, I played her before, and I think I’m a lot more relaxed than going into my fourth-round match last year. I think I’m a lot more prepared to play two weeks of tennis . “
Photo credit: Getty