US Open 2022 – “Novakesque”, “mental steel”: Cori Gauff, a huge challenge for Caroline Garcia

US Open 2022 - "Novakesque", "mental steel": Cori Gauff, a huge challenge for Caroline Garcia

One reign has just ended, but another seems ready to begin. While all of America – and the world – has been celebrating Serena Williams in recent days, while the player with 23 Grand Slam titles certainly played the last match of her career against Ajla Tomljanovic, Coco Gauff, she is still in the running for his first Grand Slam title, at just 18 years old.

Barely of age, the Roland Garros finalist already has the experience of an old veteran, even if she will play, this Tuesday, the first quarter-final of her career at Flushing Meadows, against the French Caroline Garcia, against whom it won in their first two confrontations, in Indian Wells last year and at the start of the year in Doha. On the WTA circuit since she was 15, she has also become the youngest American to rise to such a level on her land, since Mélanie Oudin (17) in 2009.

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If, like the latter, 31st in the world at best, such a performance does not guarantee a monstrous career, Gauff seems made of another metal, precious, of the style in which Serena and Venus Williams were forged. “She is absolutely phenomenal”enthused Eurosport consultant Mats Wilander, after the once again breathtaking victory of the Atlanta native against the Chinese Shuang Zhang in two sets (7-5, 7-5).

Here, on hard, what can be the game plan against her? Hit hard ? She’s got no holes in her game

The seven-time Grand Slam winner, dithyrambic, for whom the American has “total tennis”even comes to compare Gauff to… Novak Djokovic, the Serb with 21 Majors in the pocket. “This is ‘Novakesque’ the way she manages to defend on the backhand sidepicture Swedish. She is everywhere. She manages to have this mix between attack and defense”.

“It’s very difficult to find a weakness in him.says the former world number 3. Of course, we saw it in the final against Iga Swiatek in Paris (6-1, 6-3 defeat), but here, on hard courts, what can be the game plan against her? Hit hard ? She has no holes in her game.” Her compatriot Sofia Kenin, winner of the Australian Open in 2020, eliminated in the first round, was also laudatory: “She controls a lot of her movements. Zhang was very aggressive, she tried a lot, but Coco resisted every time”.

Just to add a layer, Barbara Schett, ex-world number 7 and also a consultant for Eurosport, went there with her compliment: “The way she has to play point after point, and her energy… It’s exceptional”. And, as Wilander pointed out, with her 33 winning strokes against the 36th in the world, the seeded number 12 also made people admire the whole panoply of her tennis, capable of absorbing the waves like breaking a tsunami of power and precision on the other side of the net.

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“She is as good on the backhand side as on the forehand side”, supported Wilander after the meeting. Facing striker Caroline Garcia, used to shaking her opponents in all directions, both in service and with her catapulted forehands, the battle promises to be beautiful, and tough. Especially for the French.

The scariest thing about Gauff is not just his racket-in-hand skill. Like a certain Serena Williams, it is mentally that she appears above the lot. Facing Zhang, “the difference was made in the way she played the very important points, in a very mature way”, said Kenin. Broken from the start of the match, she managed to get back in front before winning the first set. Then led 5-3 in the second set, she closed the game to pocket 4 games in a row and move on to the next round.

She still has a little work to do, but she blew me away on her way of managing the important points, especially in the service

“She missed a few easy shots at certain points early in those games. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her play so badly, but it didn’t shake her mentally. She just kept coming back.”, praised Mats Wilander. And Kenin continues: “She has proven that she already has a lot of experience, in how to negotiate expectations in this tournament. Especially since Serena is out.”commented the current 327th in the WTA rankings.

While she is one of the last three Americans in the running (with Jessica Pegula and Danielle Collins, both in the other half of the table), “all the pressure is on herexplains Kenin. I was really impressed with the way she moved. She still has a little work to do, but she blew me away on her way of managing the important points, especially on serve. She was so strong mentally.”. A quality that Caroline Garcia will also have to demonstrate, while Gauff, already carried by a spectacular momentum, will also be able to count on the unparalleled fervor of the New York public.

Caroline Garcia: “We did a good job off the court.”

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