French Open: Ons Jabeur runs out of steam as Coco Gauff grinds into semi-finals

Tunisian started superbly before fading in a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 defeat to the American third seed in Paris

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Ons Jabeur saw her French Open campaign come to an end in the quarter-finals on Tuesday, but there are plenty of positives the Tunisian can take from Paris after a difficult start to the season.

Jabeur, 29, has endured another injury-hit year, with her chronic knee problem continuing to cause setbacks. When the world No 9 has been available to play, she's understandably been below her best; for a player who relies so heavily on touch, feel and timing, match sharpness is vital.

Only once this season had Jabeur won two successive matches – at the Madrid Open last month where she won three – so a deep run at Roland Garros was more hoped than expected.

Yet, the Tunisian played some of her best tennis of the season over the past 10 days in Paris, suggesting that even while she hasn't fully recovered from her knee injury, and may never, she's at least managed it effectively.

Better still, for the first set-and-a-half of her quarter-final against third seed Coco Gauff on Tuesday, it was vintage Jabeur; the eighth seed toyed with the US Open champion, who simply had no answer to Jabeur's giant box of tricks.

She was seeing the ball like a beach ball, timing her shots to perfection and reading Gauff's serve like a book. There was power and purpose in her groundstrokes, the slice stayed low and deep, and of course the trademark Jabeur drop-shot was dialled in. That Jabeur won the opening set 6-4, sealed with line-painting ace, flattered Gauff.

Then it all got a bit ragged. Jabeur looked to be closing out another routine hold when serving at 1-2 in the second set, but from 40-15 she lost three straight points - two of them loose errors - to hand her American opponent a 3-1 lead.

She fought back superbly in the next game to get the set back on serve, but was broken to love in the next game. The shots that had bamboozled Gauff were now flying long and wide, the frustration starting to take hold, as the world No 3 levelled the match 6-2.

There was, however, still a moment of magic amid the second-set collapse when Jabeur produced arguably the point of the tournament. Sent chasing by a couple of cross-court shots from Gauff, Jabeur made two lunging retrievals to stay in the point before racing on to a shot that clipped the baseline and hitting an outrageous half-volley top-spin winner on the run. A common occurrence in the first set, those moments of brilliance were becoming fewer and farther between.

Jabeur regrouped well for the start of the deciding set, but a break in the fourth game that gave Gauff a 3-1 advantage ultimately delivered the death knell to her French Open hopes. The pair traded service games for the remainder of the match until Gauff sealed a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory when Jabeur sent a routine smash wide.

“She was playing really well the whole match. She was hitting a lot of winners on me, which is something I’m not used to against anybody,” Gauff said of Jabeur, who hit 30 winners. “So today I was just trying to just be aggressive toward the end.”

“She’s a tough opponent and she’s well-loved on tour. I could tell by the crowd today — I know you guys wanted her to win. Honestly, whenever she’s not playing (me), I cheer for her, too,” Gauff said.

“Even though you guys were for Ons, I really had a lot of fun, even when I lost the first set and they were chanting when I was in the bathroom. I was like, ‘This is just really fun, win or lose.’ It is.”

While the match could be viewed from the perspective of Jabeur losing it, rather than Gauff winning it, the American deserves plenty of credit for hanging tough and waiting for her opportunities.

Gauff, a French Open finalist in 2022, will face an even more formidable opponent in the semi-finals after world No 1 and defending champion Iga Swiatek bulldozed past Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2.

Other than a tough, tight three-set triumph over four-time major champion Naomi Osaka in the second round last week, Swiatek has been at her dominant best at Roland Garros, showing why she has led the world rankings nearly every week since April 2022 and is the firm favourite to collect Grand Slam title.

As for Jabeur, she will now head into the grass court swing, and her most successful surface, safe in the knowledge that her game is operating better than it has all year. If she can keep her knee from misbehaving, the Tunisian star should be full of confidence and ambition heading into Wimbledon, where she's reached the past two finals.

Updated: June 04, 2024, 1:37 PM