Wimbledon | Gauff guts it out to meet Halep next
The precocious talent that is CoCo Gauff was on full display during the last match on Centre Court on Friday.
I always knew I could come back, went for my shots, and kept focused. Cori Gauff
She stared down the barrel of defeat, saving 2 match points in the process, but never gave up, used every weapon in her arsenal, and slowly but surely wore down Polona Hercog, a 28-year old from Slovenia who had the match in the bag but for Gauff’s extraordinary tenacity.
It took the American just short of 3 hours to come back from the brink of defeat, and progress.
“I’m super relieved it’s all over. She played unbelievable,” she told the BBC after the match. “I always knew I could come back, went for my shots, and kept focused.
“I’m excited, but I have a mixed doubles match tomorrow, so I have to concentrate on that.”
Such maturity for one of such a young age.
Having defeated No 17 seed Madison Keys in the second round, Slovenia’s Hercog arguably faced an even tougher battle on Friday.
For although her opponent, the qualifier Gauff, is ranked 253 places below her, the hype surrounding the 15-year-old made this one of the most anticipated matches of The Championships so far.
Although the Slovenian’s experience counted for much, ultimately she crumbled to Gauff, who refused to be intimidated, the young American eventually claiming victory, 3-6 7-6(7) 7-5.
In her first appearance in the main draw at Wimbledon, Gauff had already taken out No 44 ranked fan-favourite Venus Williams and 2017 semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova, who have 34 Wimbledon appearances between them.
Hercog, who had never made it past the 3rd round here, was the first to settle into the first set as nerves seemed to get the better of Gauff, who made a number of unforced errors, including 5 double faults.
She admitted later that playing on Centre Court took some getting used to.
In the second set, the 15-year-old showed moments of the brilliance that has brought her this far, and Hercog wasn’t immune to unforced errors herself, including a double fault on match point, which allowed Gauff a way in to even up at 5-5 and take the set to a tiebreak – the first she’s ever contested in her pro career.
In a thrilling display of resilience from the teenager, Gauff refused to buckle to experience and pressure and took the second set 7-6(7), using a lot of slice in lots of cat and mouse rallies.
Hercog sought the trainer, and the doctor, disappeared off court but returned to fight on and ice her legs and neck on the sit-down.
The third set saw a role reversal, with Gauff more confident and now firing on all cylinders, while Hercog was the one chasing after conceding an early break.
The Slovenian pulled back, levelling to 5-5 on an ace, but it wasn’t enough as Gauff took the final set 7-5 and the match in two hours 46 minutes.
“It was my first match on Centre. People say Court One is my court but maybe Centre is my court as well.,” Gauff said.
“I always knew I could come back no matter what the score is, I just went for my shots.
“The crowd was amazing even when I was down match point they were still cheering me on. I’m thankful that they believe in me.”
Outside, Henman Hill was packed to bursting point and the crowd roared as Gauff took her place in the fourth round where she will face No 7 seed Simona Halep in the last 16.
Gauff, the youngest Wimbledon qualifier in the Open Era and the first 15-year-old to contest the main draw of the grass-court Grand Slam in a decade, will attempt to keep her tremendous run going on Monday when she faces a Top 10 player for the very first time, the former World No 1 Halep, who dispatched another former World No 1, Victoria Azarenka in straight sets.