Coco Gauff banks on experience to score comeback win against Mirra Andreeva | French Open 2023

new balance


Coco Gauff took her first steps on the ITF junior circuit as a precocious 13-year-old, competing against opponents five years her senior as her contemporaries played among each other. It was not until last summer that she faced a younger opponent, just a few months younger, for the first time in her career.

As Gauff lined up against Mirra Andreeva on Court Suzanne Lenglen, another new experience awaited. Andreeva, the first 16-year-old to reach the third round of a grand slam tournament since Gauff, is three years her junior. The gulf in experience proved a decisive factor as Gauff recovered from a tough, bruising first set to return to the fourth round with a 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-1 victory.

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From the beginning, Andreeva demonstrated her varied, well-rounded game by refusing to offer the same shot twice. Andreeva mixed up loopy balls with searing backhands, she looked for sharp angles and constantly hurt Gauff with her drop shots. While Gauff successfully ground Andreeva down with defence, she initially struggled with her second serve and forehand. Even as she pulled back Andreeva’s 4-2 lead to serve for the set at 5-4 and 30-0, Gauff was not comfortable. They ended a tense set in a tiebreak, with Andreeva’s greater intention and fearlessness guiding her through.

The match could have actually ended prematurely. After losing a brilliant 19-stroke rally at 6-4 in the tiebreak, Andreeva angrily struck a ball into the stands, and received a warning. She was extremely lucky the ball did not appear to hit anyone, or she would have defaulted.

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One of the biggest differences between the junior and professional circuits is the fluctuations in focus and intensity that occur among the teenagers. Gauff has spent the last three years establishing herself as one of the fiercest competitors on the tour. She immediately shrugged off her frustration from the first set, maintained her high intensity as Andreeva’s fell, and she eased through the final two sets.

“When I’m on the court, we’re not thinking about our age,” Gauff said. “I don’t think she was thinking, ‘Oh, I’m only 16 and she’s 19, she’s older.’ If she was thinking that she wouldn’t win a match because she beat people older than me. And at my age I wasn’t thinking about that, I was just thinking about playing the ball.”

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It was an essential win for Gauff, who returned to the French Open a year after finishing as runner-up in poor form, having failed to win consecutive matches on clay. Gauff has worked hard to build form and momentum with three wins and she has positioned herself for another deep run. She will next face Anna Karolina Schmiedlova for a place in the quarter-finals.

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For Andreeva, whose run has been one of the biggest talking points in Paris, she ended her maiden grand slam main draw with a lesson and greater understanding of what is required to be a top player. Having started the clay season in April ranked No 312, she will likely finish the tournament inside the top 100 – the youngest player by far – with a 22-3 record.

Andreeva said she struggled with her nerves after taking the first set. She plans to play Wimbledon next but, like many Russians and Belarusians, uncertainty remains over whether she will receive a visa in time.

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“A lot of things also to take from this match,” Andreeva said. “But we will just continue to work. I will realise what I did wrong, and I will correct it. So I hope everything is gonna be okay after. Now I’m limited still in tournaments, so my next tournament has to be Wimbledon. But I don’t get my visa yet, so we will see if I can participate in Wimbledon or no,” said Andreeva.

Meanwhile, the fourth seed, Elena Rybakina, was forced to withdraw from the French Open with illness moments before her third-round match against Sara Sorribes Tormo. Iga Swiatek, the top seed, offered a succinct reminder of why she is the tournament favourite, defeating Xinyu Wang of China 6-0, 6-0 in 51 minutes to reach the fourth round. Swiatek is the first player in six years to double-bagel an opponent at the French Open and it is her second of the clay court season.

In the open bottom half of the men’s draw, Holger Rune, the sixth seed, reached the fourth round with an easy 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 win over Genaro Alberto Olivieri. Casper Ruud recovered from a set down to defeat Zhizhen Zhang 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

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