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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, June 3, 2023


No. 6-seeded Coco Gauff fended off 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva 6-7, 6-1, 6-1 to reach the Roland Garros fourth round for the third straight year.

Photo credit: Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

Soaring for a spinning high backhand volley, Coco Gauff threw down the toughest shot in tennis with elegant ease.

Tested by talented 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva, 19-year-old Gauff responded with calm clarity and explosive elevation.

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Gauff broke eight times ending Andreeva's inspired run with a gritty 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-1 victory today to  reach the Roland Garros fourth round for the third straight year.

Facing a younger opponent for just the third time in her pro career, and bearing the pressure of defending her 2022 finals ranking points, Gauff used her experience, composure, and skill shifting from defense to offense to turn the match around.

The sixth-seeded Gauff not only dominated longer rallies, winning 25 of 37 exchanges that exceeded nine shots, she was superior in the front court winning 19 of 25 trips to net.

"I'm really proud of how I competed today. Mirra was not an easy opponent," Gauff told Tennis Channel's Jon Wertheim afterward. "Obviously, she's super young so she has a lot to look forward to and I'm sure we're gonna have many more battles in the future.

"I remember when I was 16 I didn't care who I was playing against and she has that type of game and that type of mentality, too. So I really didn't think about her age, to be honest, at all."

The sixth-seeded Gauff will play Anna Karolina Schmiedlova for a quarterfinal spot and a potential clash vs. world No. 1 Iga Swiatek in what would be a rematch of the 2022 Roland Garros final if both get there.

Ruthless reigning champion Swiatek required just 51 minutes to dispense a double bagel beat-down to 80th-ranked Xinyu Wang and raise her Roland Garros record to 24-2.

Through three rounds, Swiatek has surrendered only eight games baking up four bagels in six sets played in Paris.

A day after her doubles partner, No. 3-seeded Jessica Pegula, fell to Elise Mertens, Gauff faced a pressure-packed battle between the only two teenagers still standing in the women's field.

This was a reunion match of sorts as the pair played practice sets together last week after Gauff introduced herself to Andreeva.

Maiden major débutante Andreeva refused to act her age showing no fear of the moment or the Court Lenglen stage.

The 143rd-ranked qualifier has been a breath of fresh air in her Grand Slam debut, but her lungs were tested in physical rallies today.

Though she failed to serve out the first set from 30-love up, Gauff geared up her game and wore the 16-year-old down.

"Honestly at the end of the first set it was weird, I had a feeling that, I don't know if it was the energy she was giving me off or anything, wasn't really quite anything she did, but I had a feeling that, even though I lost that set, I felt like I won the set," Gauff said. "I knew in my head that I was playing the right way. I mean, 6-5 serving for it, 30-Love and she played great in the tiebreaker. I think I had two loose points and that matters in the tiebreaker.

"I can say probably experience played a factor, but honestly what it felt like on the court, it didn't feel like -- you know, I played two other people that were younger than me, and in one of those matches for sure I would say experience played a part but I don't know if that meant today."

Tennis Express

Down 1-2, Gauff dodged a break point, but Andreeva pushed the American into a netted backhand off her back foot. Gauff nudged a drop shot into net as the teenager gained the first break for 3-1.

Though Gauff broke back, Andreeva attacked the American's weaker forehand wing, rattling out errors for triple break point. Sliding into a bold backhand down the line, Andreeva earned the love break back for 4-2.

Adopting more assertive court positioning atop the baseline, Gauff flipped the script driving the ball deeper and jolting the teenager off the baseline.

Engaging in longer rallies, Gauff dragged Andreeva forward with a dropper then drilled a backhand pass to break in the seventh game.

Even after eight games, Andreeva escaped a love-40 triple-break point deficit banging a big second serve, but the teenager played loose forehand and an errant moonball as Gauff scored her third break for 5-4.

Serving for the set, Gauff won a physical 21-shot rally to go up 30-love.

That long duel did not help Gauff's cause though. A tense Gauff tightened sending a backhand into the middle of the net and slapping a second serve wide in a double-fault that gave back the break.

World No. 143 Andreeva again tossed in some moon balls to try to displace Gauff, saving a break point as she held for 6-5.

In the tiebreaker, Gauff went up an early mini-break for 2-0, but then dumped her fifth double fault sparking a run that saw Andreeva race through six of the next seven points.

Playing with a wide palette of shots, Andreeva bolted a body serve to set up a forehand strike for 5-3. Struggling to end points, Gauff badly missed a backhand drop shot wide, handing the qualifier three set points.

Andreeva, who was hit with a code violation warning after slamming a ball in frustration, showed guts on the third set point. Andreeva scalded the service line with a second serve, hit a forehand into the corner that Gauff slipped retrieving, then spun a swing volley to seal the first set.

Following a frenetic first-set finish, Andreeva left the court for a bathroom break.

The Delray Beach-born baseliner began stepping into the court, hammering loopy balls on the rise and stamping a love hold to start set two.

Perhaps it was fatigue from playing her sixth match (including three in qualifying) in her maiden major or the pressure of knowing she was one set from the fourth round, but Andreeva began showing signs of crankiness and self-sabotage. The 16-year-old Andreeva, hit with a code violation warning in the tiebreaker, was swiping her racquet against the clay showing more negative emotion despite her one-set lead.

"That's something I've been really trying to work on. I didn't realize how much my body language showed until I started watching the film of me," Gauff said. "I'm, like, yeah, if I was the other side looking at me, I'd be like, yeah, this girl is down.

"Today when I heard the code violation, yes, naturally you think she's frustrated, so just make her play. But there are certain players that honestly once they get the code violation, once they let out their anger, they play better."

Playing with a bit more patience, Gauff was sending Andreeva corner to corner eliciting errors. Gauff burst through 12 of 15 points, banging a diagonal backhand to break along the way, as she streaked to a 4-1 second-set lead.

Control of her shots and clarity eluded Andreeva, who was inexplicably playing Gauff's stronger backhand side. Andreeva floated a forehand long as Gauff broke again for 5-1.

A sharp Gauff slashed her first ace ending the second set on a five-game surge to force a final set after 90 minutes.

The qualifier was down double break point at 15-40 to start the third set but made a strong stand targeting the Gauff forehand return to hold and snap her slide of five straight games.

A calm Gauff kept the ball moving corner to corner to test the 16-year-old's legs, lungs and stamina. Andreeva did well to save a break point in the third game, but looked weary as she ballooned her fifth double fault to gift Gauff the crucial break and a 2-1 lead.

The stronger Gauff didn't give up on points, was punishing Andreeva in longer points and leaning into the body serve with aggression. Gauff fired a forehand return winner to break for 4-1.

Holding a 5-1 lead, Gauff soared for a spinning high backhand overhead that would have made 1983 Roland Garros men's champion and smash master Yannik Noah smile with admiration.

That sensational shot was a prelude to the backhand blast Gauff unleashed to end it in two hours, three minutes.

Passing a tough teen test from Andreeva, Gauff suggested this may well be a prelude to a future riveting rivalry.


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