PARIS: Coco Gauff of the US returns the ball to Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur during their women’s singles fourth round tennis match on Day 9 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris yesterday. – AFP

PARIS: Coco Gauff became the youngest Grand Slam quarter-finalist in 15 years yesterday when she defeated Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur at the French Open claiming she “dreams big but aims higher”. Gauff, 17, swept to a 53-minute 6-3, 6-1 win and takes on Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic for a place in the semi-finals. At the age of 17 years and 86 days, Gauff is the youngest woman to reach the last eight of a Slam since Nicole Vaidisova who made the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in 2006 aged 17 years and 44 days. She is also the youngest American woman to book a place in the last eight in Paris since Jennifer Capriati in 1993.

“You know, my message has always been ‘dream big and aim higher’. I think that today was honestly coming from that message of aiming higher,” she said. “I could easily have said I’m satisfied with the fourth round and everything, but today I think I just came in more hungry and wanting more compared to my last times I have been in the fourth round.”

In a composed performance on Court Philippe Chatrier yesterday, the American teenager broke her fellow former junior champion three times without facing a break point herself. “I am super happy to reach my first Grand Slam quarter-final. I played really well today,” said Gauff who has yet to drop a set at the tournament.

Gauff came into the French Open on the back of a clay court title in Parma. “Parma taught me how to close out matches and how to deal with pressure,” added the American who also discovered Monday that she had claimed a place on the US team for the Tokyo Olympics. Gauff made her breakthrough famously at Wimbledon in 2019 when she was just 15. She was the youngest woman ever to qualify for the tournament and backed it up by reaching the fourth round, defeating childhood idol Venus Williams on the way.

Later that summer, she melted the hearts of a tough New York crowd when she collapsed in tears into the consoling arms of Naomi Osaka after losing to the Japanese star in the third round. Gauff then claimed her maiden title at Linz and this year in Paris is playing at a career-high ranking of 25 in the world.

While the tennis world focuses on her age, Gauff insists she is more interested in what happens on court. “I don’t really care if you guys talk about my age or not. I’m 17. That’s the truth,” she said. “I promise you my opponents probably don’t care about how old I am. They want to beat me just as bad regardless of my age, and I want to beat them just as bad regardless of their age. I’m only going to be 17 once, so you might as well talk about it while I’m 17.” – AFP