In a battle between American teenagers, No.3 seed Coco Gauff came out the winner with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No.5 seed Amanda Anisimova in the Emilia-Romagna Open quarterfinals on Thursday.
17-year-old Gauff, a semifinalist at last week’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia, made it two straight weeks into the final four after dispatching her 19-year-old compatriot in an hour and 20 minutes of play.
"I was pretty satisfied with the way I played," Gauff told the press, after the match. "I do think I could have served a little bit better, but other than that, I was pretty happy with the way I played today."
It was the first professional meeting between Gauff and Anisimova, who had a high-profile junior clash when they faced off in the 2017 US Open girls’ singles final. Anisimova, who had just turned 16 at the time, defeated then-13-year-old Gauff in straight sets in that championship match.
This time around, on the clay courts of Parma, Gauff turned the tables, winning 72 percent of points when she got her first serve into play and breaking 40th-ranked Anisimova six times to obtain the victory.
Gauff, currently sitting at her best-ever ranking of World No.30, has now won 18 of her last 24 matches on tour, after improving to 5-2 in WTA quarterfinals in her career.
Anisimova twice held the upper hand in the opening set, leading by a break at 2-1 and 3-2, but each of those times, Gauff pulled back level, refusing to let the older of the two run away with her advantage.
Gauff continued to put pressure on Anisimova with heavy returns, breaking serve for a third straight time to lead 5-3. A hard-hitting game by both followed, where a backhand winner by Gauff at 30-30 gave her a set point. Anisimova misfired on the return to give Gauff the one-set lead.
Anisimova built an even bigger lead in the second set, taking advantage of an error-prone game by Gauff (including two double faults) to break and consolidate for 3-0. However, Gauff methodically pulled her way back into the set, firing a forehand winner to complete her return to parity at 3-3.
All told, Gauff won the last six games of the match as she swept through the latter stages of the second set. Anisimova staved off three match points at 5-3, but Gauff garnered a fourth with a deep return to force a netted error. There, Anisimova went wide in the next point, and Gauff had emerged the victor in the first WTA meeting between the two.
"In the second set, I was actually missing a lot of balls in the first three games, I think I lost like seven or eight points in a row," Gauff said. "And then I honestly decided to go for bigger targets, and just focus on hitting the ball deeper instead of trying to hit winners."
Gauff will now take on Katerina Siniakova in the semifinals. Siniakova continued her stellar week in Parma with another upset of a seeded player, defeating No.8 seed Caroline Garcia, 7-5, 6-1.
Siniakova started the week by defeating another rising teenager, Clara Tauson, in the first round, then stunned No.1 seed Serena Williams in the second round. The Czech now has three straight-set wins under her belt coming into her semifinal showdown with Gauff.
Gauff, though, defeated Siniakova in straight sets in their only previous meeting, which came on indoor hardcourts in Ostrava last autumn.
"She’s definitely a very tricky player, she uses a lot of variety in her shots," Gauff said, looking forward to Siniakova. "We’re both familiar with each other’s games, and it should be a good match."
Another American, Sloane Stephens, also swept into the semifinals on Thursday, as the 2017 US Open champion defeated homeland hope Sara Errani, 6-3, 6-0, in a battle between former Top 5 players.
Former World No.3 Stephens needed an hour and 25 minutes to dispatch Errani, a former World No.5 and 2012 Roland Garros runner-up. It is the first semifinal showing for Stephens on tour since a run to the final four in Madrid two years ago.
"I've been building, I've been stringing some matches together, which is nice," Stephens said in an on-court interview, after her win. "Happy to be in the semifinals this year and just keep building."
Stephens fired 26 winners in the encounter, compared to just 10 by Errani, and the American eased to victory by breaking the Italian's serve six times in the clash. Stephens collected the last eight games of the match to take a 2-1 lead in their head-to-head.
Stephens will now face No.6 seed Wang Qiang in the semifinals. Wang overcame No.2 seed Petra Martic, 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-5 in a three-hour barnburner.
The final set took over an hour and featured seven breaks of serve before 48th-ranked Wang held onto her serve at the end of the affair to clinch her second win in two meetings against the World No.23.
"It was a really tough match, I am very happy to win this," Wang said in her post-match on-court interview. This is the Chinese player's first trip to a WTA semifinal since she made the final four at the Bronx in August 2019.
Six of Wang's 25 winners were aces, as she converted five of her whopping 16 break points to pull through the topsy-turvy marathon. Meanwhile, Martic, who is coming off of her season-best run to the Rome semifinals last week, was undone by 41 unforced errors.