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By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Unseeded Barbora Krejcikova reached the semi-finals of the French Open on her fifth appearance in a Grand Slam main draw as she beat a nervy Coco Gauff 7-6(6) 6-3 on Wednesday.
The 33rd-ranked Czech saved five set points as she recovered from a slow start and benefited from her 17-year-old opponent's lack of composure to book a meeting with either defending champion Iga Swiatek or Maria Sakkari.
It was the 25th-seeded Gauff's first quarter-final at a major and after a promising start, the American appeared to crumble under pressure, making 41 unforced errors as she served seven double faults.
Krejcikova is looking to become the first player from the Czech Republic to lift the Suzanne Lenglen Cup since Hana Mandlikova in 1981.
Almost 5,000 spectators - up from 1,000 until then - were allowed on a sunkissed court Philippe Chatrier as COVID-19 measures started to ease on Wednesday.
"Thank you so much, it was amazing, we were more pumped. Thanks for cheering," Krejcikova said on court.
"I had never dreamed of being here on this court, reaching the semi-finals. I was behind in the first set but decided to go for every ball and just enjoy myself."
Gauff, who geared up for the tournament with her second WTA title in the Emilia Romagna Open in Parma, raced to a 3-0 lead with some aggressive service returns.
But Krejcikova, on a nine-match winning streak on clay on the main tour after winning the Strasbourg title before Roland Garros, broke back for 2-3 as Gauff started to misfire.
Gauff took advantage of a dip in her opponent's first serve percentage to move 5-3 up and serve for the set, only to then lose her composure and drop serve for the second time after wasting a set point.
Krejcikova was again in difficulty on her serve in the 12th game but she saved two more set points to force a tiebreak, in which nerves played a central part with Krejcikova seeing off another couple of set points.
The Czech was less wasteful, hitting a forehand winner on her first set point to take control of the contest.
She won 10 points in a row as she opened a 4-0 lead in the second set. Krejcikova's nerves got to her too as she wasted three match points at 5-1 and allowed Gauff to pull a break back.
Gauff saved another match point with a service winner in the next game. Krejcikova buried a forehand into the net on the next one, but she ended it on her sixth opportunity when her opponent sent a woeful shot wide.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)