But when faced with a bleak situation, Gauff fought back — fending off five match points before succumbing to unseeded Barbora Krejcikova, who advanced to the semifinals with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 upset in Paris.
“I never want to give up, and today I really did fight until the last point,” Gauff, 17, said during her post-match news conference. “I think losing these matches is going to pay off in the future. If I continue fighting like this, other players, maybe if they do have the lead, will start to get nervous because they know I’m not going to give in.”
Gauff, the No. 24 seed, was the last American standing at the clay-court classic. And with nine of the top 10 women’s seeds ousted, she faced a golden opportunity to reach a Grand Slam semifinal. It was an opportunity Gauff had earned, vanquishing all four previous opponents in straight sets with powerful strokes and poise beyond her years.
But her biggest opponent in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal came in the form of nerves that were reflected, she explained later, in playing too passively on critical points — a mistake she does not intend to make twice.
“I think next time, going into it, I’m definitely going to focus more on making less errors, just trusting myself on the set points,” said Gauff, who complimented Krejcikova, 25, on winning the “pressure points” and playing high-percentage tennis that ultimately coaxed too many errors (41 unforced to Krejcikova’s 28). “I feel like [on] the set points I did have, I did play a little bit passive. That’s not kind of how I want to play tennis. I always want to play first-strike tennis.”
Among the positives in Gauff’s deep run at Roland Garros was that she clinched a spot in the Tokyo Olympics, which had been among her goals at the season’s outset. She confirmed after Wednesday’s loss that she intends to compete in Tokyo, without concern or reservation.
Gauff also comes away from the French Open with invaluable experience, armed with lessons that aren’t easily forgotten.
Her hitting partner told her as much when she came off court clearly disappointed.
“[He] told me this match will probably make me a champion in the future,” Gauff recounted. “I really do believe that.”
Gauff, who is from Delray Beach, Fla., burst onto the global sporting stage at Wimbledon in 2019, the last time the grass-court classic was staged. Just 15, she toppled her idol, Venus Williams, in the first round and won twice more to reach the fourth round, where she fell to eventual champion Simona Halep.
More confident and consistent at 17, Gauff signaled her readiness to contend at Roland Garros earlier this year, winning both the singles and doubles titles (the latter with Caty McNally) on the same day at a clay-court tournament in Parma, Italy.
She arrived at the Parisian clay-court complex, where she had won the French Open junior title just three years earlier, seeded at a major for the first time by virtue of her career-high 25th ranking.
Her quarterfinal against Krejcikova was the first match on the tournament’s main court Wednesday. The crowd was sparse when play got underway but was decidedly in her favor, with fans joining Gauff’s parents, father and coach Corey and mother Candi, in cheering her on.
Both players struggled with their service toss throughout — a product of nerves rather than wind on a day with no perceptible gusts.
Gauff broke serve at her first opportunity to take a 3-0 lead, but Krejcikova steadied herself to draw even.
Up another break, Gauff served for the set at 5-3 but doubled-faulted and got broken. She wasted no time or energy chiding herself but battled on through an error-strewn tiebreak.
A backhand into the net scuttled her second set point. And so it went, with Gauff’s untimely errors and double faults, combined with Krejcikova’s resolve, handing the first set to Krejcikova.
Krejcikova, playing more freely, varied pace and placement deftly, and the second set sped by.
The crowd tried to rally Gauff as she stepped up to serve, trailing 0-3. But after being broken at love on her seventh double-fault, she smashed her racket in a rare display of frustration.
Still, she didn’t make it easy for her 33rd-ranked opponent, who was also playing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. At 0-5 and Love-40, Gauff fended off three match points in succession. Then she won the next three games before Krejcikova closed the match.
Gauff’s focus now turns to Wimbledon, which requires a quick and tricky transition from clay-court tactics to grass.
“I’m excited to go back, for sure,” Gauff said. “That was one of my first matches on a big stadium like that, playing against really great people like Venus Williams. It kind of just was the start of my career, I guess, and making it on the pro tour.”
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