American teenage tennis sensation Cori “Coco” Gauff has advanced to the fourth round of the French Open for the second time in her young career. Gauff beat Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-4 on Friday at Roland Garros. At 18 she is the youngest woman remaining in the draw and is one of six American women still playing. The red clay at the French is often a struggle for American players, but Gauff has had her best major finish at the French, advancing to the quarterfinals in 2021. The sliding and nuances needed to succeed on clay is something she is very comfortable with.
“I’ve been coming to France since I was 10 and trained at the Mouratoglou academy,” said Gauff post-match. “So I guess it makes me maybe not a clay-court expert, but not bad at it.”
Gauff is currently the 23rd-ranked player in the world and was as high as No. 15 this year. With Venus and Serena coming to the ends of illustrious careers, Gauff is considered next up to continue the Williams sisters’ 25-year run of Black girl excellence in tennis.
Her game has steadily improved since she bursted onto the pro scene in 2019. She had a distinguished junior career, as she won the French Open Junior title in 2018.
One of the more athletic players on tour, Gauff’s feel for the game is incredible. She’s able to construct points and move into areas of the court that rob her opponents of time and give her an advantage.
“I think for me I’m most happy with my movement and being able to create depth and create those opportunities to get short balls,” said Gauff.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 27, 2022
Advancing through a Grand Slam is obviously no easy feat. Over the course of two weeks you not only need to be good, you need luck as well. It’s hard to play perfect tennis for two straight weeks, in those moments the best players find ways to gut out matches without their best stuff.
Gauff has yet to drop a set so far in the tournament but she has a maturity and understanding for the game that belies her teenage years.
“I knew it was going be a tough match. [She] beat [former champion Garbine] Muguruza in the first round. … I knew today would be close,” said Gauff.
Next up Gauff will next face No. 31 Elise Mertens. The veteran from Belgium has made it to the fourthth round twice at the French Open. She’s also made the quarterfinals and a semifinal at the U.S. Open and Australian Open, respectively.
“I think that now I feel like mentally I’m in a better place than I was last year, 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,” Gauff said.
“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.”
When you are a young player you don’t have a whole lot of reference points for how to handle the two weeks of a Grand Slam. But every first is a learning experience and something to file away for the future.
Now into the second week at a major for the second time in her career on a surface she’s clearly comfortable on, it could be a special two weeks for the American teenager.