Gauff, Stephens in all-American showdown


Teenager Coco Gauff will bid to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final on Tuesday at the French Open when she takes on experienced compatriot Sloane Stephens in the last eight.

The 18-year-old is playing in her second straight Roland Garros quarter-final after losing to eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova 12 months ago.

Five different US players have reached the women’s quarter-finals in the last five years, but there has not been an American champion since Serena Williams won her third title in 2015.

World number one Iga Swiatek is the only top-10 seed left in the draw and is firm favourite for the title. But Gauff believes that “anybody can win”, using last year’s US Open – when qualifier Emma Raducanu beat fellow teenager Leylah Fernandez in the final – as an example.

“I know that some of the higher seeds on my side definitely dropped out of the draw,” she said. “I’m thinking, especially if US Open taught us anything, anybody can win on any day. I think all players should really (be) going into the match thinking about that.”

Gauff added: “I think really we just have to take a step back, especially in the Grand Slams, and not look at rankings anymore.”

It will be Gauff’s second meeting with former US Open champion Stephens, after falling to a straight-sets defeat when they met in an all-American second-round clash at Flushing Meadows last year.

“I think last time I played her I was super nervous going into the match,” she said. “Not because it was Sloane. Just because we were on (Arthur) Ashe (court) and it was an all-American match-up. I think a lot of people expected a lot from me in that match.”

Stephens is hoping to reach the semi-finals of a major event for the first time since losing the 2018 French Open final to Simona Halep.

The 29-year-old has slipped from a career-high of world number three to 64th spot in the WTA rankings. But the clay-court tournament is the only Grand Slam where Stephens has made three quarter-finals.

“Americans in Paris… I think it’ll be a great match and I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

Fernandez is another teenager looking to reach the semi-finals as the 19-year-old faces Italy’s Martina Trevisan. The Canadian was unseeded when she reached the 2021 US Open final and became the youngest player to knock out three top-five seeds in a Slam since Serena Williams in 1999.

Fernandez is now the third-highest seeded woman left in the draw, but insists she still considers herself an underdog.

“Every time I step out on the court I still have something to prove,” she said. “I still have that mindset I’m the underdog. I’m still young, I still have a lot to show to the people, to the public.”

Trevisan is enjoying another dream run in Paris after also reaching the last eight in 2020 as a qualifier.

“I thought to myself, ‘Yes, Martina, you can do (it) again’,” said Trevisan, who won her maiden WTA title in Rabat last week and is now on a nine-matching winning run.

“I will like to live again this emotion. I mean, I’m here, so I’m really happy.”—AFP