How Coco Gauff is preparing for Iga Swiatek at the French Open

Open Extended Reactions

PARIS — Marketa Vondrousova was bewildered after her quarterfinal loss to No. 1 Iga Swiatek. She had been caught up in the Swiatek hurricane on Court Philippe-Chatrier, slipping to a 6-0, 6-2 defeat. Still, at least she picked up a couple of games, unlike Swiatek’s fourth-round opponent Anastasia Potapova, who lost 6-0, 6-0. Afterward, Vondrousouva acknowledged what it is like being on the wrong end of a Swiatek masterclass.

“Yeah, it’s very tough. I feel like on the court you have nothing to offer. She’s just too strong here.”

She then summarized it: “I feel like you just go crazy every point.”

So over to you, Coco Gauff. Gauff, the 2023 US Open champion, faces Swiatek in the semifinal on Thursday at Roland Garros. For so long, Court Philippe-Chatrier was Rafael Nadal’s domain, but that baton has been passed to Swiatek. She’s won three of the past four French Open titles and is the overwhelming favorite to add another Suzanne-Lenglen trophy to her haul on Saturday.

Swiatek and Gauff’s history also paints a one-sided picture: Swiatek has won 10 of their 11 meetings, each in straight sets.

“Look, she’s obviously No. 1 in the world, and she won this tournament, like, what, three times already,” Gauff said Tuesday after beating Ons Jabeur. “I think for me I’m just going in with confidence. I mean, when I played her in Cincinnati, I didn’t go into the match thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve never beaten her before, or taken a set off her.'”

That victory was August 19, 2023. Gauff found herself in the semifinals of the Cincinnati Open against her nemesis. She took the first set in the tiebreak and then lost the second set 3-6. But in the third, she found a way to arm wrestle it back in her favor.

“I was telling myself, ‘You’re a warrior and you can do this,”‘ she told the Tennis Channel after the win. “I was just saying, ‘I’m Coco Gauff and I can do it.'”

Three weeks later, she won her first Grand Slam in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The crowd was fully behind her on that Saturday evening in New York. That’s often the case — Gauff being a crowd favorite — but the French Open quarterfinal on Tuesday was an outlier. Fans love Jabeur here, with a strong Tunisian contingent in the stands supporting her. After losing the first set 6-4, Gauff took a restroom break. There, she heard the crowd singing Tunisian songs in honor of Jabeur. It propelled Gauff. She came out in the second set far more aggressive and captured the next two sets to advance.

“If my level doesn’t rise, then I deserve to lose,” Gauff said on court after her 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory. “I knew I had to raise my level. … I just started to play more aggressive and not letting her dictate me off the court.”

When Swiatek was asked what changes she’d seen in Gauff since their first meeting at the semifinal of the Italian Open in 2021, she pointed to her mentality.

“I think her mental game is a little bit better, and before it was, you know, kind of easier to ‘crack her,'” Swiatek said. “I would say, when you were leading. It’s normal that she’s making progress. She’s at that age that everything goes pretty nicely [and] if you’re working hard, then you will get progress. Every aspect of her game is a little bit better, because, yeah, it’s different being a teenager on the tour and then being [a] more mature player.”

Gauff considered Swiatek’s comments during her news conference. “It is something that I knew I had to improve and just be more positive, but I think it just also came with maturity and realizing that I can’t beat myself and also my opponent beating me,” Gauff said.

There’s been a running theme of resilience for Gauff at Roland Garros, and central to that is the thought process she’s introduced.

At changeovers, you sometimes see her eyes closed as she’s doing circular breathing exercises. In between matches, she makes a concerted effort to stay grounded.

“I like to lay on the ground and just meditate, whether it’s for literally a minute or two or 10 or 15,” Gauff said after her win over Dayana Yastremska in the third round on Friday. “It just kind of depends on the day or how I feel. I think it helps to keep you grounded, because sometimes in these tournaments, the pressure can feel like a lot to do a lot. Sometimes, you just lay on the ground, and you just think that … there’s billions of people on this earth and billions of people don’t even know who you are. So the matches aren’t as big as they feel sometimes.”

Coco Gauff can look back at her epic 2023 victory over Iga Swiatek for inspiration. Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

She spends most of the year on the road, but used the Mouratoglou Academy in Nice, France, as her base during the clay court swing. She’s likely to return there after Roland Garros, while she and her coaching staff will work to reset mentally, point by point. After her win over Yastremska, she spoke on court about how she stays focused trying to close tight games.

“I think sometimes when those moments happen and you just want to finish the match so fast, you can let things triple over, whereas if it’s 1-all or 2-all, you lose a game, it’s not that big of a deal,” she said. ” I just try to remind myself the positioning of the match. It’s kind of psyching yourself out. Because then there are times when you’re down a set and a break and you have to tell yourself it’s OK. It’s just really psyching yourself out.”

And then there are the little tweaks she’s made to her serve. “I tend to go down on my left side on my serve, which causes a lot of double faults. So I think just trying to keep that left side up and just adjusting how I toss the ball, those are the two main things.”

It’s going to be a different Gauff that Swiatek faces on Thursday. Gauff will look back at their previous matches here — losing the final in 2022 and quarterfinal in 2023 — and try to solve where she went wrong. On Wednesday evening, she will sit down with her team and discuss tactics.

“I definitely think I have to find a better way to play her than the last times I played on clay,” Gauff said Tuesday. “I think she’s playing great tennis here, so it’s going to be a challenge, but I’m going to go into the match with a lot of belief that I can [win].”

She will also wish her youngest brother Cameron a happy birthday. She’s sorted the gifts and hopes they will have time to talk on the phone in-between his Fortnite sessions.

And then on Thursday in the buildup to the semifinal it’ll be the usual playlist. Christian gospel music for the warmup.

“Sometimes when I’m nervous it helps me calm down,” she said.

And then, as she put it last week, it’s time to get “hyped.”

“J. Cole, Lil Baby, Drake, Kendrick, all of them. Who else? Yeah, Eminem. Basically any rapper you can think of is probably on that playlist.”

She will go on the court ignoring past history and those matches Swiatek has dictated. Gauff also will try to be as resilient as ever.

“I can’t think of past players. Potapova isn’t me,” Gauff said. “I’m not Vondrousova. It doesn’t mean anything. Maybe I could lose with the same score, maybe not, but I’m just going to go in and just try to win. I have nothing to lose. All the pressure is on her, so yeah.”

Leave a Reply

Verified by MonsterInsights