By Issy Ronald, CNN
(CNN) — A week ago, Coco Gauff celebrated her high school graduation under the Eiffel Tower.
Now, the 18-year-old will compete in her first-ever grand slam singles semifinal following a 7-5 6-2 victory against compatriot Sloane Stephens in an all-American quarterfinal at the French Open.
Gauff’s extraordinary talent has been evident since she became the youngest player in history to reach the main draw at Wimbledon three years ago — defeating Venus Williams and reaching the fourth round.
In the years since, she has grappled with the pressure that arose from that feat.
“Obviously I believe in myself,” she said in her post-match interview. “Even last year, I think I was too focused on trying to live up to other people’s expectations of me. Just enjoy life.
“No matter how good or how bad my career is, I think I’m a great person, and that’s a message to all young players. Your results, or your job, or how much money you make doesn’t define you as a person. As long as you love yourself, who cares what anyone else thinks?”
The athleticism and power that have made Gauff such a threat were on display once again as she continued her perfect start to this year’s French Open, during which she has not yet dropped a set.
She will now face world no. 59 Martina Trevisan on Thursday for a place in the final.
From the very start of Tuesday’s game, Gauff consistently attacked from the baseline and broke her compatriot at the first opportunity.
It took Stephens four games to register on the scoreboard, but she did so in style, maneuvering Gauff off the left side of the court and capitalizing on the open space with a backhand volley winner.
Stephens began to steady herself, and though Gauff continued to lead courtesy of the early break, flickers of the talent that had propelled the 29-year-old to a US Open title and world no. 3 appeared. A nonchalant passing shot and crosscourt forehand winner fired at an impossible angle sealed her service games.
Carried by this momentum, Stephens broke the young American and consolidated this break to level at 5-5.
Three loose shots in her last service game of the set, however, undid Stephens’ comeback and Gauff took the first set 7-5.
Two breaks of serve canceled each other out at the start of the second set before Gauff held and broke Stephens once again to put herself within touching distance of the semifinal.
As the tension built, errors crept into Gauff’s game and — hampered by a run of double faults — she battled to win her service game, saving three break points to take a 4-1 lead after a wayward volley from Stephens had released the pressure.
Once Gauff had won this game, the result seemed inevitable. However, a tendency to double fault returned to haunt the 18-year-old as she served for victory and was forced to wait longer for confirmation of the result.
Double faulting proved contagious, though, and was indicative of Stephens’ inconsistency during the match as a series of unforced errors allowed Gauff to wrap up the victory with relative ease.
After reaching the quarterfinals of last year’s French Open, when she was beaten by eventual champion Barbora Krejčíková, this year’s tournament is Gauff’s best performance at a grand slam to date.
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