PARIS — Coco Gauff could have hoped for the easy way out. Ever since the French Open bracket determined that the 19-year-old Floridian might end up in a quarterfinal against Iga Swiatek, perhaps it would have been understandable if Gauff wished to avoid that particular matchup.
After all, Gauff lost to Swiatek in the final at Roland Garros a year ago. And, after all, Swiatek owns a 6-0 head-to-head lead over their still-nascent careers. But, at least in part because of what happened on June 4, 2022, and at least in part because she knows Swiatek sets the bar in women’s tennis these days, Gauff was thinking about, even wishing for, a rematch on June 7, 2023.
That is what will happen on Wednesday in Paris: No. 1 Swiatek vs. No. 6 Gauff for a berth in the semifinals. In Monday’s fourth round, Gauff put aside a bloody knee from a fall to produce a 7-5, 6-2 victory over 100th-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, before Swiatek moved on when her opponent, 66th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko, stopped playing because she was sick and had problems breathing while trailing 5-1 in the first set.
Gauff played earlier in sun-splashed, windy Court Philippe Chatrier, and she was wrapping up her news conference just as Swiatek and Tsurenko were playing their very first point in Court Suzanne Lenglen.
So the question was put to Gauff: Would you rather deal with the difficulty of facing Swiatek again or face pretty much anyone else?
Her answer sounded both honest and revelatory.
“Since last year, I have been wanting to play her — especially at this tournament. I figured that it was going to happen, because I figured I was going to do well and she was going to do well,” Gauff said. “But I’m the type of mentality: If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. I think also if you want to improve, you have to play the best. I feel like the way my career has gone so far, if I see a level, and if I’m not quite there at that level, I know I have to improve. And I feel like you don’t really know what you have to improve on until you see that level.”
Swiatek already achieved some of what Gauff wants to achieve — and, maybe just as importantly, believes she’s capable of achieving, too.
The 22-year-old from Poland took over at No. 1 in the WTA rankings 14 months ago, a status that is on the line at this tournament.
She owns three Grand Slam titles — two at the French Open and one at the U.S. Open.
Gauff’s best showing at a major was the runner-up finish at Roland Garros, where she is now into the quarterfinals for the third consecutive appearance.
“It would be almost cowardly to say that I want to not face the noise and not face the challenge, but I think that I’m up for it. I have improved a lot since last year, and she has, too,” Gauff said about a half-hour before it was known that she indeed would play Swiatek next. “I think it would be a great battle for us and for the fans, too. I’m sure they would appreciate that matchup, as well.”
Swiatek figures they know each other’s games well.
But she also made the point that a quarterfinal does not have the same stakes or same pressure as a final does.
“This is a totally different year, totally different tournament,” said Swiatek, who hasn’t dropped a set so far and won four by a 6-0 score. “I have to be ready, regardless of what happened last year.”
Tsurenko said she had a sore throat and congestion and surmised the illness might have been similar to the virus that forced Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina to withdraw before her third-round match.
“My body could not handle it,” Tsurenko said.
The other quarterfinal on that half of the women’s draw will be No. 7 Ons Jabeur vs. No. 14 Beatriz Haddad Maia.
The men’s quarterfinals will feature a redo of a contentious matchup last year in that round, No. 4 Casper Ruud against No. 6 Holger Rune, along with No. 22 Alexander Zverev against Tomas Martin Etcheverry.
The big-serving Zverev beat No. 28 Grigor Dimitrov 6-1, 6-4, 6-3, and Etcheverry eliminated No. 27 Yoshihito Nishioka 7-6 (8), 6-0, 6-1.
Ruud, the 2022 runner-up to Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros and to Carlos Alcaraz at the U.S. Open, defeated Nicolas Jarry 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-5. Jarry, who served an 11-month ban in 2020 for a positive doping test, went up 4-1 in the second set and 4-2 in the third, but Ruud turned things around.
Rune, a 20-year-old from Denmark, edged No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (10-7) across a minute shy of four hours. The contest included a bit of a brouhaha over a point on which Rune hit a ball after it bounced twice on his side, prompting Cerundolo to try to apologize for the way his shot skimmed along the clay — only for chair umpire Kader Nouni to award the point to Rune.
In the fifth set, Rune appeared to be in trouble while trailing 4-3 and serving at love-40. But he then won 10 of the next 11 points to get back into things. In the tiebreaker, Cerundolo took a 7-6 lead, before Rune reeled off the last four points.
“Moments like this,” Rune said, “stay with you forever.”