By: Howard Fendrich
Caroline Garcia never really let Coco Gauff — or the crowd — get fully involved in their U.S. Open quarterfinal on Tuesday night.
From early on, Garcia played high-stakes tennis and put strokes where she wanted, sometimes right at Gauff’s feet, sometimes well out of reach. In contrast to the early success Gauff, still just 18, has experienced, it’s been a long journey for Garcia, who now gets to play in the first Grand Slam semifinal of her career at age 28.
The 17th-seeded Garcia took charge at the start and never relented in a 6-3, 6-4 victory over the 12th-seeded Gauff at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I just go for my shots,” Garcia said, “even when I’m stressed.”
She had lost both of her two previous matches against Gauff, who was the runner-up at the French Open in June, but was by far the better player this time.
Garcia, who is from France, hasn’t ceded a set at Flushing Meadows so far this year and stretched her winning streak to 13 matches overall, solidifying her status as someone playing as well as anyone in women’s tennis at the moment.
She finished last season ranked 74th, but now is projected to rise into the top 10 next week.
“The last couple of months.” Garcia said, “I feel healthy again.”
She will face Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur of Tunisia on Thursday with a berth in the final at stake.
“I’m looking forward to the next challenge and what I can achieve,” Garcia said.
Jabeur advanced to her first semifinal in New York with a 6-4, 7-6 (4) victory over the player who beat Serena Williams in the third round, Ajla Tomljanovic.
One men’s semifinal spot was settled earlier Tuesday when 2022 French Open finalist Casper Ruud defeated 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4).
Ruud next goes up against the winner of Tuesday night’s last match: Nick Kyrgios — who eliminated defending champion Daniil Medvedev in the fourth round — against No. 27 Karen Khachanov.
Ruud, who has a chance to replace Medvedev at No. 1 in the rankings, improved to 12-2 in Grand Slam competition in 2022 after making just two unforced errors in the first set, 11 fewer than No. 13 Berrettini.
“Everything sort of went (in) my favor,” Ruud said. “I was hitting all the spots, all the shots that I needed to.”
Berrettini’s take: “After 20 minutes I was (down) 5-0. I don’t know how really. I don’t know what happened.”
Something quite similar happened in Garcia vs. Gauff: It was 4-0 merely 17 minutes in, as spectators were still filing in. All in all, there was less-vociferous support for Gauff than she heard in her previous victory in Ashe.
During that pretty perfect start, Garcia capped one 17-stroke exchange with a down-the-line forehand winner. She raised her fist and held that pose while looking at her guest box, where her father and coach were on their feet. It was a sequence that would be repeated.
Both are big servers: Gauff hit the fastest by a woman in the tournament this year, at 128 mph; Garcia leads the WTA in aces in 2022. Each delivered one at 117 mph in her opening service game.
But it was Garcia who read Gauff’s offerings far more effectively. Garcia often returned deep enough to seemingly startle Gauff, who rushed some responses. After one of several attempted replies by Gauff settled in the net, she jutted her racket toward the ground, as if to indicate: “Why do these keep landing right there?!”
That sort of constant pressure, and Garcia’s tendency to stay way inside the baseline to receive second serves, could have contributed to Gauff’s six double-faults.
Garcia also quickly gained the upper hand from the baseline with her clean, crisp strokes. During a brief TV interview on the way from the locker room to the court, Garcia said she hoped to be “more aggressive.”
She certainly was.
In a nod to her volleying expertise — something she has displayed in doubles, where she has won two Grand Slam titles with French partner Kristina Mladenovic — Garcia moved forward whenever an opening presented itself. She wound up winning 13 of 16 points when she went to the net.
Rather than fearing, and trying to stay away from, Gauff’s stronger backhand side, Garcia went after it, drawing repeated mistakes.
Gauff occasionally would show a bit of frustration at her play, slapping herself on the thigh or knocking her racket on a courtside towel holder.
She was trying to become the youngest American woman in the U.S. Open semifinals since Serena Williams was 17 when she won her first Grand Slam title in New York in 1999.
Garcia would not allow it.