NEW YORK -- Three feet off the ground, limbs balletically positioned, eyes closed and mouth wide open, Caroline Garcia is the picture of pure, unadulterated joy. Hang that one in the Louvre.
This is the feeling you get when you’ve beaten Coco Gauff in the quarterfinals of the US Open on the biggest court in the world, Arthur Ashe Stadium. The 28-year-old Frenchwoman, into her first career major semifinal, has made it a habit of leaving the locals disappointed. Back in June, she defeated cherished British subject Emma Raducanu on Centre Court at Wimbledon and one month later was a winner over No.1-ranked Iga Swiatek in her home tournament in Warsaw, Poland.
Is there any reason to think the No.17-seeded Garcia will be daunted by the prospect of facing No.5 Ons Jabeur, her nemesis for a dozen years now, in a Thursday night match that will deliver the winner into the US Open final?
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“The path is very clear right now, which direction I have to go, under stress, under pressure,” Garcia told reporters after defeating Gauff 6-3, 6-4. “I’m just trying to follow this path.”
Garcia has won 13 straight matches, including the two in Cincinnati qualifying that eventually led to her first WTA 1000 title in five years. She had lost three previous matches to Alison Riske-Amritraj before beating her in the fourth round and two previous matches to Gauff and is the only woman left in New York who hasn’t dropped a set.
Jabeur, however, has a lot going for her. Only Swiatek has won more than Jabeur’s 43 victories this year, and she’s coming off back-to-back major quarterfinal wins. She could become the first African women’s player to reach the final at the US Open in the Open Era.
And, there’s this: Jabeur has a 2-0 record against Garcia, both on the Grand Slam stage, and 6-0 if you include their junior meetings.
“She was a rare kind of style,” Garcia said. “Yeah, a few times she stopped me on my way to get a Slam in juniors. It’s fun to see two players again in the semifinal in US Open. It’s a great challenge for my game, for me.”
Garcia’s coach since the beginning of the season has been Bertrand Perret -- who coached Jabeur from 2018-20 and helped her rise from No.110 to No.45. He’s had a similar effect on Garcia.
Five years ago, Garcia broke through with WTA 1000 victories in Wuhan and Beijing and played in the year-end championship in Singapore. She was only 24 when she achieved her career-high ranking of No.4 near the end of the 2018 season. Last year was a big step back; Garcia was 21-24 and won only three matches in the four Grand Slam events. Her ranking dropped, precipitously, to No.74.
The year began slowly, but she won the title in Bad Homburg back in June, reached the fourth round at Wimbledon then won again in Warsaw and Cincinnati. Her attacking, athletic game has been free of doubt. A win against Jabeur could land her back in the Top 10.
What a night 🦁🐝🤩🇺🇸🎾— Caroline Garcia (@CaroGarcia) September 7, 2022
Into the SEMIS at the @usopen
Pure emotions !
Quelle soirée ! Qualifiee pour les 1/2 finale 💪🏻🤜🏻🤛🏻🦁🐝🤩#FlyWithCaro #usopen #usopen2022
Photo crédit @corinnedubreuil pic.twitter.com/gzGC6qKEor
“I mean, to have nerves, it’s normal,” Garcia said. “That means you care about it. You play tennis because of the passion, because of the emotions it brings you. So it also drives you to keep practicing, to go forward.”
Jabeur, she said, has always been a tricky opponent.
“Especially in juniors, it was really rare to play someone doing so much drop shots, slicing in the backhand,” Garcia said. “She was really changing a lot the balls. She was very tricky already to play.
“Now she’s even more. She’s in the Top 5 in the world, made the final in Wimbledon. She has improved a lot. It’s a great challenge. It’s great to see players, we have been growing up together. It’s nice to see that we made it to the top.”
Said Jabeur: “I know she plays really aggressive, and a tough game. So whoever is going to be able to impose her game is going to be in better form. So I will try to play my game.
“I will try to be me.”