One big difference: Garcia, now 28, became an overnight sensation more than a decade ago thanks to one particularly noteworthy performance on a big stage — and long before she achieved the sorts of things Gauff has at 18.
On Tuesday night at the U.S. Open, Garcia took charge and never really let Gauff — or the crowd — get fully involved. From the get-go, Garcia played high-stakes tennis and put strokes where she wanted, sometimes right at Gauff’s feet, sometimes well out of reach, and reached the first Grand Slam semifinal of her career with a 6-3, 6-4 victory at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“It kind of got away from me,” said the 12th-seeded Gauff, an American who reached the French Open final in June. “It was all her. ... I was striking the ball really clean. You're playing someone, off the bat, they’re standing on top of the baseline and ripping balls. It's not easy. ”
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.
“The path is very clear right now,” Garcia said. “Which direction I have to go, under stress, under pressure. I’m just trying to follow this path.”
Back in 2011, still just 17 and ranked 188th, playing in only her second tour-level event, Garcia led Maria Sharapova — who had won three of her five Grand Slam titles by then — 6-3, 4-1 in the second round at Roland Garros. Sharapova wound up taking the last 11 games to win, but Garcia was suddenly on the map.
Sharapova praised her as someone “on her way way up, definitely,” and Andy Murray wrote on Twitter that day: “Girl sharapova is playing is going to be No.1 in world one day caroline garcia, what a player u heard it here 1st.”
Asked recently about that, Garcia laughed and said she's never talked to Murray about it.
“I was very surprised because, in the end, I still lost the match. But it was a funny moment. ... I was pretty much nobody at the time. I’m not going to complain about it, but I was definitely not ready. More importantly, my game was not ready for it,” Garcia said. “I was not able to (play) the same, match after match or week after week. I was trying to manage the pressure that came from it.”
She did get to No. 4 in the rankings in 2018, but finished last season ranked 74th. Now she is projected to rise into the top 10 next week and will face Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur of Tunisia on Thursday with a berth in the U.S. Open final at stake.
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.
In the men's quarterfinals Tuesday, No. 5 Casper Ruud beat No. 13 Matteo Berrettini in straight sets and will play No. 27 Karen Khachanov, who eliminated No. 23 Nick Kyrgios 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-4 in a match that finished at about 1 a.m..
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.
Garcia stood right near the baseline, or inside it, and read Gauff’s serves 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?!”
Gauff ended up double-faulting six times and finished with 24 unforced errors.
Taking balls early off the bounce, Garcia gained the upper hand from the baseline with her 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.
With her volleying expertise — she has won two Grand Slam doubles 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.
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.
“Overall I’m super proud of myself ... but I’m hungry for more," Gauff said with a smile. “So maybe next year.”
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Howard Fendrich, The Associated Press