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Caro flying: Garcia into first major quarterfinal in five years

  • Matt Trollope

To see Caroline Garcia in full flight is one of the joys of watching professional tennis. 

Exceptionally athletic, powerful and complete, the Frenchwoman’s tennis is devastating when her body and mind align.

In a now-fabled tale, her game caught the eye of Andy Murray, who was watching the then 17-year-old in action against Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros in 2011.

“The girl Sharapova is playing is going to be number one in the world one day,” Murray tweeted, as Garcia gloriously built a 6-3 4-1 lead over Sharapova at Court Philippe Chatrier. “Caroline Garcia, what a player u heard it here first.”

That tweet perhaps proved more curse than blessing.

Garcia went on to lose the match, and throughout her career has arguably underperformed at the Grand Slam tournaments, relative to her talents.

Yet Murray was correct in tipping Garcia would rise in the rankings. 

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She is yet to reach No.1, but she did rise as high as No.4 in 2018, helped by a magnificent back-end of 2017 when she won the prestigious Wuhan and Beijing tournaments back-to-back, qualifying her for the WTA Finals.

Garcia built an 11-match winning streak during that Wuhan-Beijing double, the best unbeaten run of her career.

That was until this weekend at the US Open.

Garcia thumped Alison Riske-Amritraj – a player she had never before won a set against – 6-4 6-1 on Sunday to win her 12th consecutive match.

Caroline Garcia celebrates her fourth-round US Open victory over Alison Riske-Amritraj, her 12th consecutive match win. (Getty Imges)

The victory also sent her through to just her second ever major quarterfinal – and her first in more than five years. The last was at Roland Garros, another high point in that 2017 season.

“I think there is difference (between then and now). I'm five years older. I think my game is a little bit different. I don't feel the same person that I was five years ago,” said Garcia, now 28.

“Obviously I learned a lot. I got some tough years in there. I got some experience. 

“We have been working hard to come back to the top level. I'm really glad to be at this level again. Really enjoying it.”

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Next up for Garcia is a quarterfinal against popular young American Coco Gauff, a match likely to earn blockbuster billing at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Gauff may possess both a higher profile and ranking, but Garcia looms as a force in the draw whom nobody wishes to face.

The Frenchwoman has hoisted the trophy at three of the past eight events she has entered, most recently winning the WTA 1000 title in Cincinnati, where she began in the qualifying rounds.

“At one moment you just say to yourself: ‘You have to go for it. You miss, you miss, but you have to do something. You have to change, you have to find a way to improve’,” Garcia reflected on rebounding from a forgettable first set in her opening match in Bad Homburg, the first of her three titles in this purple patch.

“I think this tournament was really the week a lot of things change… I went for it. I didn't know if it was going to work, but I believe.

“From this week, a lot of things went (well) after.”

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She has since defeated notable names such as Iga Swiatek, Bianca Andreescu, Aryna Sabalenka, Petra Kvitova and Emma Raducanu. 

She has won 30 of her past 34 matches and improved her ranking in that time from 75th to 17th; she is expected to rise to 12th with her quarterfinal run in New York, and could potentially return to the top 10 if she beats Gauff.

Garcia overwhelmed Riske-Amritraj on Sunday, crushing 30 winners to the American’s seven and boosting her tournament return winner tally to 13 – the equal best among the field.

She has now won 11 consecutive sets.

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“To get wins, definitely helps to be happy, to know which way you have to play, to be healthy, it's a lot of positives to take from,” she said.

“With my team we are seeing so many things we can still improve, so it gives us purpose to keep improving, to keep working hard. It's a reward to be here today, and I'm grateful for all the hard work we did.

“I like to play tennis aggressive, to move forward. I'm having fun, enjoying playing that way.

“I will not say something very special can happen. (But) I will say we were probably saying, good things can happen again.”