Cori Gauff is the youngest player at the Top Seed Open in Lexington and probably the one with the most prominent fighting spirit. The 16-year-old is through to her second WTA semi-final, ousting Ons Jabeur 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in just under two hours.
Ons led 6-4, 4-2 and had a break chance to move 5-2 in front, only to squander it and drop ten of the last 11 games, propelling Gauff into the final four. Cori hit three aces and 11 double faults, struggling to find the rhythm on serve or return in the first half of the encounter and finding the inner strength to forge a comeback and cross the finish line first.
The youngster saved nine out of 12 break chances, earning five breaks to set the clash against the fellow American Jennifer Brady. It was a clinical performance from the Tunisian in the opening set, dropping five points in her games (15 straight points won) and stealing Gauff's serve in the third game to move in front.
Delivering one good hold after another, Jabeur fired three winners in game ten to secure the opener, hoping for more of the same in set number two. Cori fended off two break chances at the beginning of the second set, enduring an extended rally in the second game to grab a break at love.
Jabeur pulled the break back a few minutes later after a backhand mistake from Gauff, forcing an error from the youngster in game five to secure another return game and forge the advantage. In the pivotal moment, Cori fended off a break chance at 2-4, gathering boost and never looking back.
The American broke back in game eight with a deep return, holding at 15 and rattling off the fourth straight one following a drop shot error from Ons to steal the set 6-4. They wasted five break opportunities at the beginning of the final set and Gauff had the upper hand from 1-1, taking all games to race over the top.
The American broke at 2-1 with a backhand crosscourt winner, delivering another one in the sixth game thanks to a tired backhand from Jabeur and moving over the top with a service winner.
Cori Gauff trailed 6-4, 4-2 before beating Ons Jabeur in three sets.
"I'm always going to fight, no matter what, and try my best, no matter the score.
The biggest thing was the mentality. Even though I wasn't playing the way I would've liked, staying strong and positive definitely kept me in the match. The more encounters I have, the more experience I get. The more different types of playing styles that I get to play against, the more I'll get used to that kind of style and how to approach it.
I would say I've exceeded my expectations, not so much the result but playing-wise. Getting as many matches as I can is the goal right now... I like playing under pressure and pressure is a privilege. I just enjoy it, and the tough clashes are what makes tennis fun, so I try my best to rise to the occasion.
I definitely hit a lot more slices and had my hitting partner hit more slices and drop shots in the warm-up and practice yesterday. Most of the drop shots, I was able to get to... I haven't had success in the past when I play crafty players, and I try to out-craft them.
Sometimes, I can come up with a shot or two, but that's not my typical style. I was aiming higher towards the net and focused on putting more balls in the court than trying to finish the point early. I tried to open up the court and give myself more chances to move forward.
We've practiced together either last year or a year-and-a-half ago, a couple of times. Brady obviously has a heavy ball and a good serve, and she's going to take her chances. I'm looking forward to it, to be able to play and to get a different playing style than today. I know she likes her forehand, so we'll see what happens," Cori Gauff said.