PARIS - Coco Gauff isn't afraid to make mistakes. But what sets her apart at her age is how quickly she learns and bounces back. A year after her own inexperience got the better of her during her first major quarterfinal appearance at Roland Garros, Gauff has looked more like a seasoned veteran this time around in Paris.
Playing focused, confident, relaxed tennis, Gauff, 18, is now into her first major semifinal, and she's done it without losing a set.
"Obviously I'm going to make some mistakes and have some bad moments," she said, "but I think for me as long as I show that it's with good intent, like last year I broke a racquet here, and people ask did I regret it? No, I don't regret it.
"I think it's important as a young player that we show vulnerability and show that it's OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. I think it's just important to show with that."
That's what's she's done the past 10 days in Paris. Last year, Gauff faced Barbora Krejcikova in the quarterfinals and had five set points in the first set. But Gauff couldn't settle her nerves, succumbing to Krejcikova in straight sets.
But the experience has paid off. In real time, we're watching Coco Gauff shed her rookie status.
"I think that was the biggest lesson I learned last year in my quarterfinal match," Gauff said after her fourth-round win. "I had a couple set points and I think I freaked out when some of those points didn't go my way.
"[Tuesday] I didn't freak out when a couple of those important points didn't go my way."
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Not freaking out has been the common refrain from Gauff. Leading Sloane Stephens in the second set of her quarterfinal, Gauff threw in some double faults. The Krejickova match quickly entered her mind -- but in a good way.
"In that moment, I was back in that mentality of that match, and I think having that match I was like, I know I'm falling back into this mentality so I need to change it up," she said afterward. "And I did.
"I feel like last year I was looking at the finish line, and now I'm not looking at anything really except that ball in front of me."
Wise beyond her 18 years.— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 31, 2022
Ladies and gentlemen, @CocoGauff 👏#RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/iBrSdV8LZz
Before the French Open, Gauff posted pictures of herself in her cap and gown, celebrating her high school graduation at the Eiffel Tower. She's followed that up with a series of wins against vastly different opponents, encapsulated by her trio of victories against big-hitting Kaia Kanepi, a grinding Elise Mertens and Stephens' counterpunching. Perhaps best of all, Gauff has carried a relaxed, joyful aura as she's gone about her business. She's also in the quarterfinals of doubles with Jessica Pegula.
"Ever since I joined the tour, or even when I was even 8 years old, [people were saying] the next Serena, next this, next that, and I think I really fell into the trap of believing that," Gauff said.
"I felt like I was to the point where even when I made the second week or beat Naomi [Osaka] at Australian Open, I remember I was happy but I wasn't that happy because, I was, like, I feel like that's what I should do. Whereas now I'm really appreciating each win and loss."
Coco in control 🎮#RolandGarros | @CocoGauff pic.twitter.com/wHADr04eS5— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 31, 2022
Now that she has avenged her loss to Stephens from the US Open last season, Gauff now has another revenge match. Gauff will face Martina Trevisan in Thursday's semifinal. The Italian knocked Gauff out of Roland Garros in the second round two years ago.
"I think a lot of the times when I play someone two or three times, even back in juniors, I would at least by the third time hopefully figured it out," Gauff said, laughing.
"I think that it helps, because I feel like I know what's going on on the court and I know why I lost the match, and I know what I need to work on for the next time. My grandfather always told me: 'Forget your wins; remember your losses.' I remember each and every loss.
Which is why, as she has showed us in Paris, she's quickly learned the art of winning.