Wimbledon Daily Dispatch: Opening Day Sees Changing Of The Guard as Coco Gauff Stuns Venus Williams
By Thomas Cluck
(July 1, 2019) It was an historic opening day of Wimbledon like none ever seen before, with a simultaneous generational changing of the guard in 15 year-old American qualifier Coco Gauff shocking her idol five-time champion Venus Williams and a squashing of three of the leaders of the youth movement in tennis all going down in upsets.
On an opening day order of play originally billed as the under card to a glorious Tuesday lineup, it was the incredible drama and high quality of Monday’s play at SW19 that captivated tennis fans from London and beyond.
A historic, generational changing of the guard made everyone take notice late Monday evening at the All England Club as one standard-bearer of American tennis passed the torch to the next great as Gauff took down her idol Williams 6-4, 6-4 on the newly-roofed Number One Court.
“They’re the reason why I wanted to pick up a tennis racket,” said Gauff. “And I met them both, and they’re both super kind people, and I’m just super happy and thankful that they chose to play tennis.”
Having been anointed as the next in a line of American women succeeding the stardom the Williams sisters built, Gauff, who even Serena Williams described as paralleling sister Venus in many ways, has looked up to Venus and modeled her game and her athletic, tall, slender body around the exact blueprint of power and athleticism Venus and Richard Williams began using in the late 1990s, well before Gauff was even born.
“I wasn’t apologizing; I was just telling her thank you for everything she’s done for the sport. She’s been an inspiration for many people. I was just really telling her thank you,” explained Gauff. “I met her before, but I didn’t really have the guts to say anything. I mean, now or never.”
Coming into her first career major main-draw match at the most prestigious tournament in the world- where she officially became the youngest player in the draw in the Open Era- Gauff was significantly under matched in every aspect: physical, mental, emotional, experience. She still won.
“You never know what happens. If I went into this match saying, ‘Let me see how many games I can get against her,’ then I most definitely would not have won. My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That’s what happened,” commented Gauff.
With the win, Gauff soared to instant stardom. It was one of those historic, “stop where you are” type moments, a generational changing of the guard that all inside the All England Club stopped to witness. Now the youngest woman to win a major main-draw match since Jennifer Capriati at 14, the only way is up for Gauff.
While the generational change of Gauff and the shocking upset of Williams dominated the day one story lines at SW19, the youth movement at the top of both tours was squashed in their revolution in London with various upsets leaving questions for all three.
World No. 2 and defending US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka made it two major wins and now two early losses in her last four Slam showings, looking troubled and at times confused in a confounding loss to feisty Kazakh Yulia Putintseva 7-6(4), 6-2 on Centre Court.
Following her surprising split with coach Sascha Bajin coming off two consecutive Grand Slam titles in New York and Melbourne earlier this year, Osaka has looked at times an all-together different player on court, with no prominent results to show for since despite holding the world No. 1 ranking for the majority of 2019.
“There are answers to questions that you guys ask that I still haven’t figured out yet,” said Osaka.
Despite her relatively untested record on grass, expectations were still high for the Japanese coming into the third major of the year and she’ll leave with more questions than answers as she heads into her favorite surface once again this summer on the hardcourts.
A similarly shocking result for a player many had high expectations for this fortnight, Stefanos Tsitsipas’ disappointing loss at the hands of unheralded Italian Thomas Fabbiano was a shock very few saw coming on opening day of The Championships.
“It was very, very difficult to overcome that match. I was really disappointed. I am disappointed now. People expected things from me. I didn’t deliver. When you get so much support, so much energy, so much positivity from everyone, just ruin everything by yourself, it’s devastating,” said Tsitsipas to media.“I should be the one creating. I should be the one just playing my game. I can’t seem to find a way to do that.”
Tsitsipas, who made a breakout run to the second week here last year, never found his footing on the fresh lawns of London this year, looking uncomfortable throughout his 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 loss on Number Two Court.
“He was just playing better. I wouldn’t actually deserve the victory today even if I would have won because I didn’t play well. He played much better today. I give him credit,” commented the Greek. “The way I played, it should have been in three, not five. I don’t know how I got to five. I guess with my fighting spirit, somehow I managed to win those two sets.”
“It felt like I was lost, going for too much or going for nothing. There was no balance in what I was doing,” explained Tsitsipas.
A far more predictable upset for one of the men’s game’s hottest young talents came on Number One Court as well with Alexander Zverev’s Grand Slam struggles continuing, crashing out on day one to dangerous Czech lefty Jiri Vesely 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
“One or two things don’t go my way, and everything kind of a little bit falls apart. It was kind of a typical grand slam match for me,” said Zverev.
Following a huge breakthrough and his biggest title yet to close the last season with a win at the Nitto ATP Finals in London, Zverev came into 2019 with high hopes but so far outside issues and tough circumstances have plagued his year.
“Everything outside the court affects you, I won’t get into details now, but the last couple of days have been very rough for me personally,” explained Zverev. “I’m not going to get into details, but I’m just saying. I have to fix that to play well on the court.”
Illness, injuries, and off-court issues have made 2019 a nightmare for the young German so far, dealing with an illness that cost him the March Masters Sunshine Double events and limited his preparation for the clay-court season, a knee injury picked up in Halle that appeared to bother him in the leadup to the grass court major, a public breakup with his girlfriend, and a tense legal dispute between his former agent Patricio Apey and himself leaving the 22 year-old far from his best so far this year.
“I’m not very high on confidence right now. When I get to the important moments, I had, what, five, six break points in the fourth set alone? Can’t take any of those,” commented Zverev. “I had a 0-40, a 15-40. I’m down one break point myself and he takes it immediately, where I miss an easy volley.”
“I didn’t lose this match on tennis. It’s just my confidence is below zero right now.”
Following an eventful and dramatic opening day of Wimbledon 2019, day two at SW19 will see defending champion Angelique Kerber open play on Centre Court, joined later by Roger Federer and Serena Williams, while newly-crowned number one Ashleigh Barty, British number one and home hope Johanna Konta, and Rafael Nadal will take to Number One Court on Tuesday.