Garcia, an ultra-aggressive Frenchwoman ranked at No. 17 in the world, extended a stunning all-summer run to beat Gauff 6-3, 6-4 in the first appearance in a US Open quarterfinal for both players on Tuesday night.
Gauff, 18, had electrified the crowd here in the absence of Serena Williams, showing a newly honed mental game and sense of maturity despite becoming the youngest American quarterfinalist since 17-year-old Melanie Oudin in 2009.
She was never able to find her footing on Tuesday.
Garcia has raced through 2022 to record one of the best seasons on the WTA Tour. She arrived at Arthur Ashe Stadium having won 17 of her last 18 games and 29 overall since Wimbledon, the most in women’s tennis in that span.
Last month, she became the first-ever winner of the Western & Southern Open, a major hard-court tournament outside of Cincinnati before the US Open, winning after qualifying and eliminating three top-10 players in the process.
In addition to three WTA singles crowns, she also took the French Open doubles title that year.
But on Tuesday, the 28-year-old was only in the quarterfinals for the second time in her career in 42 Grand Slam singles games.
In her first major semifinal of her career, she meets Wimbledon finalist Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who defeated Ajla Tomljanovic in straight sets on Tuesday. It gives her a chance to show Flushing Meadows more of her spirited game – big, pinpoint shots and lightning-fast reflexes.
“I’m just trying to focus on my game, what I love to do, how I play tennis best,” Garcia said. “The way is clear now.”
Gauff has no reason to hang his head after a solid year in the majors; She lost the French Open final to world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and reached the third round at Wimbledon. She will make her top 10 debut when new rankings are released after the US Open and became the second youngest doubles No. 1 after Martina Hingis last month.
At 18, this was the first year that Gauff had no limit on how many WTA tournaments she could play due to the organization’s age rule. She’s still figuring out things like time management at Grand Slams and getting back to her hotel quickly without dawdling on-site or agreeing to too many extra-court commitments.
“It’s hard for me to be proud and disappointed. So I think I’m learning more not to be so disappointed in myself. Really, I’m just proud of how I got through this week. … I didn’t tell anyone, but I didn’t think it was going to be such a good tournament for me,” Gauff said, citing the fact that she had withdrawn from an opening round match in the previous tournament with a slight lower leg injury.
“I think it was good that I was able to recover. I’ve really proved to myself mentally that I can get out of these tough situations and do it.”
Gauff said she’s gained a sharper sense of identity on the pitch and a stronger mental game this year after reaching her first major final. Surprising herself at how nervous she got before playing Swiatek, she vowed to approach big games differently – embracing the nervousness so she can tackle it head-on.
After every US Open match, she went straight back to the practice field.
“It’s really about recreating the feeling,” Gauff said earlier this week. “It helped. You can practice for hours on the court, but you’ll probably get the closest feel to the game by playing straight away. I think in the long run it will help me.”
Gauff hardly had a chance to feel nervousness or other emotions. Garcia pounced from the start.
Garcia’s opponents face lightning bolts at every point. She stands right at the baseline to rip returns before her opponents are ready, dragging Gauff from side to side to get her going with the first points of the game. From then on she often literally had them on her heels – not an easy task against such a fast and agile athlete as Gauff.
Several times, Garcia’s groundstrokes came so fast and deep at Gauff’s toes that, just to have a chance to get her racquet on the ball, Gauff had to crouch so low that her knees almost touched the court. At one point towards the end of the first set, she brushed sand from the concrete off her legs.
“It was all her,” Gauff said. “I mean, today, warming up, I probably had one of the best warm-ups I’ve had at this tournament. I hit the ball really clean.”
When Gauff had a chance to build points, her serve was too volatile to establish offensive positions. She served four double faults in the opener as Garcia was completely relaxed, winning 78 percent of her points on first serve and losing just one in 10 service games.
Gauff made it 4-5, 30-30 in the second set but slammed a forehand into the net to give Garcia the match point. Another backhand from Gauff into the net concluded after 97 minutes – which according to Gauff was the longest match Garcia played in the entire tournament.