Wimbledon Daily Dispatch:
Gauff Backs Up Win Over Venus, Opelka Upends Wawrinka in Five-set Shootout, Ruthless Azarenka Sets Halep Clash
By Thomas Cluck
It was a big Day Three at Wimbledon dominated by 15-year-old Coco Gauff and the big man from the USA as in 21 year-old Reilly Opelka.
It was another remarkably confident and composed performance from American Coco Gauff to defeat veteran Magdalena Rybarikova, a grass court specialist, 6-3, 6-3 and follow up her stunning victory over her idol Venus Williams on Monday, now moving into the third round to face Slovenian Polona Hercog, who upset 17th-seeded American Madison Keys in straight sets.
“’I think I played well, especially on the pressure points,” said Gauff.
“I think I can beat anyone. If I didn’t think I could win I wouldn’t be on court.”
“No matter who I play against, I want to win,” commented Gauff. “I’m still shocked I’m even here.”
Opelka shook the All England Club on Wednesday and sent the three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka packing from SW19.
“It’s a huge win,” said Opelka, an ATP NextGen star born in Michigan and training in Orlando, Florida at the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona.
Winning 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 8-6 in front of a riveted No. 2 Court crowd, the nearly seven-foot Opelka blasted his big serve at Wawrinka time and again during their three hour and 13 minute clash, but it was the powerful young American’s movement that made the difference in upending the 22nd seed deep in the fifth set.
“I’ve always been a pretty good mover. Underrated, actually. I think sometimes when I play guys for the first time, they don’t expect it,” explained Opelka. “It helps me win so many points, being able to [track] down some extra balls, especially in the key moments.”
While it was only his fourth career Grand Slam main draw appearance and only his second major victory, Opelka handled the final games of the fifth set like a veteran, taking advantage of his position serving first in the final set to play free, aggressive tennis and put the pressure on the 34 year-old Wawrinka.
“More so the situation of the match, being down two sets to one against him. Break points the first game in the fourth set, and that’s tough, obviously. He easily could have walked away with that in four sets,” commented Opelka. “But I’m just proud of how I competed and how I handled the big moments of the match.”
“I had some chances. I start a little bit slow. I was a bit hesitating, not really moving well enough,” said Wawrinka. “At the end he went for it. He went bigger than me and he deserved to win.”
There was no question former world No. 1 and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka deserved to win Wednesday, not once, but twice, dismantling Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2, 6-0 in just over an hour before continuing her ruthless form in doubles with current No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, winning 6-0, 6-1 in just 56 minutes.
Finally finding her footing two years into her comeback to tennis following the birth of her first child, Azarenka is beginning to make serious inroads on tour after reuniting with coach Wim Fisette– whom she won the Indian Wells and Miami titles to claim the Sunshine Double with in 2016- playing with some impressive, aggressive form that will surely have seventh-seeded Simona Halep taking notice ahead of their Centre Court-worthy third-round clash on Friday.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for me, a tough one, because she’s playing not very flat, but she’s very aggressive. So on grass it’s not that easy,” said Halep.
While Azarenka was dominating in her singles and doubles game on Wednesday, Halep had to fight through some ups and downs in her game to eventually put away fellow Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, a victory Halep feels can still be much improved upon.
“I think I’m playing okay. It’s always tough on grass, but it was a tougher match than the first one, so it was good that I could win it,” explained Halep.
“Also I had tough moments during this match. I lost the second set when I was leading- when I just had to fight until the end and for every ball, which I’m really happy that I did. I felt confident on the court. I also felt strong mentally.”
Halep brings a two-match win streak over Azarenka into their upcoming third round match, but assessed she’ll need to raise her game in order to defeat the Belarusian.
“I’m trying just to improve in this way. Today I did not go to the net at all, but my goal is to do that.”
“The key is the mental part,” said Halep. “I am confident I have my chance and for sure I will win it. I want to win badly every match I play.”
There were no upsets for two of the title favorites featured today on Centre Court as defending champion Novak Djokovic cruised past American Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 and Eastbourne winner Karolina Pliskova held off a late surge from Rio 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig to win 6-0, 6-4.
“There were some moments in the match where maybe I could have done better,” said the top-seeded Djokovic. “Dropped a couple of times my serve.”
“I’m pleased with my game overall. There were some moments in the match when I could have done better but it was a solid performance overall.”
There were some struggles to an overall impressive performance from three seed Karolina Pliskova, escaping in the second set to win after the big-hitting Puig caught fire and threatened to take the match to a third and final set.
“I think was much better than the first round for sure today. Little bit trouble in the end, but I think that’s normal,” assessed Pliskova. “She also has some chance to play good tennis, so she played.”
“She improved in the second set, playing more first serves and just went for it, so I’m just pleased I didn’t have to play any longer!”
“I think was so far the best here. I felt the best here in Wimbledon today. The court was super nice, a little bit faster than the outside courts. So it was good,” explained Pliskova.
The next match won’t be any easier for the big-serving Czech, with the trick and guile of veteran Su-Wei Hsieh awaiting in the third round.
“I feel like I’m improving with every day on grass, especially with the title in Eastbourne. It helped me feel more confident and more used to the surface. I’m just happy to be in the third round, and hopefully I can go one more step.”