American teenager Coco Gauff pulled off a stirring performance at Roland Garros on Monday as she breezed past Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, 6-3, 6-1, to reach her first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal.
"It means a lot to me," Gauff said in her post-match press conference. "I have lost in the fourth round a couple times so it feels good to get over that hurdle. Today I played probably my best match so far in the tournament."
No.24 seed Gauff, at 17 years and 86 days old, is the youngest player to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal since Nicole Vaidisova reached the last eight at the 2006 French Open.
Gauff is also the youngest American to reach the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam since Venus Williams romped to the 1997 US Open final. Gauff is the youngest American to go this deep at Roland Garros since Jennifer Capriati reached the 1993 quarterfinals in Paris.
If Gauff was at all unnerved by these potential milestones, including the thought of a career-best showing at a major, she never showed it in her calm and collected 53-minute dismissal of 25th-seeded Jabeur.
"I feel like all my matches have been -- I don't know how to say it, but straightforward wins, like no crazy three sets and stuff," Gauff said, reflecting on her fortnight. "As we know, I have had a lot of those in the past.
"I just feel like this has been the most consistent tennis I have played at this level. Hopefully I can keep that going. "
Gauff and Jabeur are seeded just one spot apart, and they had split their two previous matches on clay in the last 12 months, portending a tantalizing showdown. Also, they have both been junior singles champions at Roland Garros, with Jabeur winning in 2011 and Gauff prevailing in 2018.
However, it was the American who dominated from the start, firing 15 winners to just nine unforced errors. Gauff also won 81 percent of her first-service points, while claiming a whopping two-thirds of points returning the Jabeur second serve.
Jabeur did have more winners in the match, with 18, but the Tunisian's 21 unforced errors negated that statistic. Jabeur, who became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2020 Australian Open, never held a break point in the match.
Ladies and gentlemen 🥁— wta (@WTA) June 7, 2021
The youngest woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal since 2006.
🇺🇸 @CocoGauff wins the battle of the former junior #RolandGarros champions 6-3, 6-1 against Jabeur! pic.twitter.com/ua3REslDSM
Gauff took command right away with an early break for 2-0 and had no trouble holding onto that lead through 4-1. Jabeur picked up a love hold for 4-2 with a volley winner, but the Tunisian’s variety did not derail the teenager as Gauff swept through her final two service games of the first set, closing it out with an unreturnable serve.
The American showed off her own skills at the net in the second set, clinching a break in the first game by wrapping up a rally with a volley winner. As the set progressed, Gauff became even more confident moving forward, with back-to-back winners at the net to earn the double-break lead at 4-1.
Gauff needed four match points at 5-1 to polish off the victory on Jabeur’s serve, but the 17-year-old got it done in the end, triumphing once more in the forecourt and the end of a final gripping rally and notching a spot in her first-ever major quarterfinal.
"I'm definitely still learning [on clay], I'm going to always still be learning no matter how many matches I win," Gauff said. "But for me, it's just being patient. And shot selection I think is really important on clay because you're not going to have too many outright winners on clay just because it's slower and gives more time for your opponent to get the ball.
"I think clay is probably the surface you can use the whole court the most. I think it's important that I continue to mix up how I play so my opponents don't really know what to expect."
Next up for Gauff will be fellow first-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic. Krejcikova also had a swift win on Monday, dispatching former finalist Sloane Stephens, 6-2, 6-0 in under an hour.
"[Krejcikova has] obviously been having a great clay season, and she's a tough opponent," Gauff said. "I think that she's a really smart player and she's been on tour for some time.
"She can play all parts of the court. She does well in singles and doubles and mixed doubles. I'm just going to go out there and just focus on playing my game and not so much about her."
For the moment, Gauff has more pressing concerns, as she hopes to hold her current lead over her parents in a very important contest.
"Right now I'm focused on going to sleep tonight and winning the next UNO match," said Gauff, who has won 16 of the card games against her mother (10 wins) and her father (11 wins). "And then tomorrow we focus back on practice and then get ready for the quarterfinals."
Finish Line Found 🏁@mariasakkari is headed to her first Grand Slam quarter-final with a 6-1, 6-3 win over 2020 finalist Kenin in just over an hour.— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 7, 2021
She gets the winner of Kostyuk/Swiatek. #RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/gqnPoNqOYT
Maria Sakkari also had a career-altering win in Paris on Monday, as she too booked a spot in her first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal by dispatching last year's runner-up Sofia Kenin, 6-1, 6-3.
No.17 seed Sakkari needed just an hour and eight minutes to oust the 4th-seeded American and become the first Greek woman to reach a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal.
"I was stuck in the third round a lot of times, and that was an obstacle," Sakkari said to the media, after her win. "I wanted to just kind of break that curse and make it to the fourth round. Now I'm excited to be in the quarterfinals for the first time.
"I knew it was going to come. I didn't know when. But I think that I've been playing very good tennis, especially this year, and I don't see why [I can't go] further as well."
Sakkari out-winnered Kenin by 19 to 15 in the affair, as she leveled their head-to-head at two wins apiece. Kenin could only muster up 14 winners on the day while having 32 unforced errors in her ledger, nine of which were double faults.
In fact, the double faults led Kenin astray early on, as she hit a combined total of four in her first two service games while Sakkari stormed ahead 4-0. Kenin grasped one break back for 4-1, but Sakkari quickly regained her double-break advantage, ending a stirring rally with a backhand putaway to reach 5-1.
After a commanding love hold to close out the first set, Sakkari continued her roll in the second, with an array of service winners backed up by world-class footspeed as she swept to another 5-1 lead.
It was only here where Sakkari found a spot of bother. Kenin erased a match point at 5-2, then broke Sakkari once more when the Greek served for the match. However, at 5-3, Sakkari gritted her way to a second match point on the Kenin serve, and converted her chance this time around once a backhand by the American flew long.
"I was telling myself that even if she holds serve, then trust your serve and go for it, and I would have found a way for sure," Sakkari said. "I cannot tell you that I would have closed out the set for sure because I don't see the future, but I think I've done it a lot of times, so I could do it once again."
Sakkari might end up battling both of last year's Roland Garros finalists back-to-back: in the quarterfinals, she could face defending champion Iga Swiatek, if the No.8 seed can get past Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk in Monday's nightcap.