Coco Gauff mounted a stern comeback to rally from a break down in the second and third sets to defeat Shelby Rogers 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Adelaide International. With the win, the 16-year-old American advanced to her first WTA 500 semifinal.
In Adelaide, Gauff has come through qualifying with wins over Francesca Jones and Kaja Juvan and has scored three straight three-set matches to make her first semifinal since the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky last summer. Making her Adelaide debut, Gauff has defeated Italy's Jasmine Paolini, No.6 seed Petra Martic, and an in-form Rogers. She will face either No.2 seed Belinda Bencic or Australian wildcard Storm Sanders.
"In the first set she came out swinging and I couldn't really play it safe because she was punishing me for hitting the ball short, so that set just went by super quickly," Gauff told reporters after the win.
"I kind of went down in the second set and I just kept fighting for every point, really. I knew I needed to be aggressive if I wanted to win and I think I stepped up in the moments where I needed to."
"When I got my opportunity, I just stepped in and took it and I started playing forward and moving forward more, and also playing a little bit higher and heavier when I was on the defense."
After Gauff's decision to stay in Australia and play Adelaide has paid off in a big way. The American won back-to-back main draw matches for the first time since her semifinal run in Lexington last summer and has gained important match-play as a result.
"At the end of the day I need more matches under my belt," Gauff said. "I'm still new and need a lot more experience, and it definitely plays a role.
"I didn't realize how much a role experience plays until I started playing some players who are a lot older than me and they know what to do. Even when it comes to the little mind games and all that, they know what to do in those moments. So I'm just learning and picking up a few tricks as I go."
One of the most important mental tricks the teen phenom has learned is that she does not have to put unnecessary pressure on herself to play her best tennis every day. She is still honing her Plan B and Plan C levels, but weeks like Adelaide have helped Gauff close the experience gap with the tour veterans.
"Very few players are able to play seven matches fully good the whole time, and if they do it's like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Gauff said. "There's always one match where it's going to be pretty tight.
"[Novak] Djokovic, in his Australian Open win against [Taylor] Fritz and against Frances [Tiafoe], he dropped a set against Frances and two sets against Fritz, so you're not always going to play your best. But I think those wins that you don't play your best and win are the most important."
"I feel like before, you're going on tour you're not really sure what the level [is]. I probably overplayed some balls. Sometimes I overplay the points and overthink and sometimes it's just putting the ball on court and hitting the targets instead of trying to finish a point in three shots.
"Maybe it's sometimes better to play the long game. Especially now, at least with me, I would say I'm pretty physically fit, so I know I physically I can outlast some of the other players on tour. And also mentally I'm pretty strong, so I think playing the longer points definitely helps and it's to my advantage."
Just as Gauff has adapted her game to the tour, the tour has adapted its game to Gauff. After two breakout seasons in 2018 and 2019, Gauff has seen how advance scouting has quickly made her a known quantity. Her element of surprise is gone.
"I feel like definitely after  Wimbledon [things changed], just because people were more familiar with my game," Gauff said. "I feel like Wimbledon I was new so there wasn't really a 'scouting report' against me. Whereas, now I notice players are starting to listen to scouting reports. They end up changing up in the match because sometimes it doesn't work and sometimes it does.
"But that's something that I have definitely stepped up, and watched a lot more film than I normally would when I was in juniors. In juniors you didn't really watch any film, you just asked a couple players how the person plays, they tell you and you just go out there on court.
"But now the game, especially with the technology, everybody has access to stats and everything, so it's definitely a lot more competitive when it comes to the strategy side than I feel like than it used to be back in the times."