WATCH: Gauff takes the mic after reaching the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

Let’s revisit that conversation about hype, the one we started during Carlos Alcaraz’s hypeable feast on Sebastian Korda earlier this week. What makes a player worthy of such an abstract mantle? In sport as in life, it’s not always what you do, but how and when you do it. Coco Gauff, for example, has played an entire career well ahead of schedule—dating back to when she became the youngest junior finalist in US Open history. By 15, she’d beaten Venus Williams at Wimbledon the hype train had truly left the station.

But as she enters her late-teens, age and even country origin isn’t enough to keep so intense a spotlight on the Next Great American Hope. As the No. 18th-seeded 18-year-old reeled off the final eight games to defeat Elise Mertens, 6-4, 6-0, it became clear just how much hype Gauff is capable of creating herself. Into her second straight Roland Garros quarterfinal, is it possible we’ve even been underselling Gauff entirely?

Her bubble was certainly bigger this time last year when she stormed into the last eight without losing a set. Set to take on relatively unheralded singles opposition in Barbora Krejcikova, Gauff played her brand of gritty, athletic tennis only to come up just short in two sets. But Paris would be the warm-up for Wimbledon, right? At her age, Maria Sharapova used a quarterfinal finish as a springboard for her unforgettable Wimbledon at 17.

Instead, a dominant first week on grass would come to another thudding end, this time at the hands of former champion Angelique Kerber. Kerber exposed Gauff’s technical weaknesses to play her best match of the tournament, foreshadowing her own return to the semifinals.

What should have been a summer showcasing Gauff’s high floor had suddenly become a harbinger of her low ceiling. Technique is hard to change at any age: could both maintain her world-class backhand and revamp a too-loose forehand swing into something that could generate consistent pace?

And so, the hype cooled, and even her runner-up finish at the US Open doubles event was rendered old news in the wake of shiny happy Emma Raducanu lifting the singles trophy over fellow teen Leylah Fernandez.


The 2022 season saw Gauff settle into a reliable, if unremarkable member of Top 20, one whose doubles results continued to outpace what she produced in singles. She graduated from high school, underscoring her ability to speak with a thoughtfulness that nonetheless belies her age—both in press and online.

A credible clay swing set her up in good stead for what has been a triumphant return to Paris, again reaching the quarterfinals without losing a set. Though her technical issues persist, the terre battue looks to be most effective at maximizing the athlete that exists today—rewarding her defense while affording extra time on offense.

We’re more than halfway done and haven’t mentioned Mertens more than once, which, in an extended meditation on hype, is no coincidence. The irony is that there is an argument to be made that Mertens, already a major semifinalist and one of the most consistent factors of the Top 40, is an overall better player than Gauff. She possesses a steady serve, a strong athletic build, and an all-court game that, like Gauff, has paid even more dividends in doubles.

But you’ll never find Mertens in the same sentence as hype, unless they’re separated by “lacks.” If Gauff is all charisma, Mertens is the cool contrast—the role she often plays in doubles alongside past partners like Hsieh Su-Wei or Aryna Sabalenka. At 26, she has reached the third round or better in her last 17 major appearances, an impressive mark of consistency in an ever-destabilized WTA landscape.

Of those 17 third rounds, most have led to the second week, but only three have gone to a quarterfinal. Against Gauff on Sunday, it was easy to see why: where Mertens played a marvelous 31-shot rally to save a set point, she found herself equally outfoxed on the second, and could ignite no new gear through a non-competitive second set.

Once again, Guaff proved greater than the sum of her not-altogether-unimpressive parts, roaring over the finish line in under 90 minutes.

She next could end up in a full-circle meeting with fellow American Sloane Stephens. Tagged as the Next Serena, Stephens bore the brunt of the previous generation’s hype, which first consumed her before she emerged from a lengthy injury absence to capture her long-prophesied first major title. Though she has endured an unsteady four years since, her unwavering potential has never allowed her to fall too far from the conversation. As if to illustrate just how low she could go, her run to the second week in Paris was preceded by a Strasbourg defeat to a lucky loser who had never won a WTA match.

The other option is, like Mertens, the more likely on paper in Jil Teichmann. The No. 23 seed enjoyed a breakout run on hard courts last season, and has brought that form to her more natural clay with aplomb in 2022, reaching the semis and quarters of Madrid and Rome, respectively.

No matter whom she faces across the net, Gauff has reclaimed her role as young protagonist at Roland Garros and the question remains: with a second bite of the apple, can she convert well-earned hype into longterm success?