Wimbledon Daily Dispatch: Centre Court Glory For Gauff Saving Match Points To Defeat Hercog, Halep Halts Azarenka In Emphatic Fashion
By Thomas Cluck
(July 5, 2019) The fairy-tale story of 15 year-old American Coco Gauff had captivated Wimbledon, London, the tennis world, and the entire globe for the last week. And on Friday evening, making her Centre Court debut, it looked like it was finally ending. But remember, all good fairy-tales have their fair share of twists. This one sure did.
In front of an absolutely enthralled Centre Court crowd on a stunning Friday evening in SW19, this supernova showed us all she won’t stop shining bright no matter the circumstances, fighting off her nerves, a steely, dangerous veteran opponent in Polona Hercog, and two match points in the second set to gut out a truly incredulous victory 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 to the roar of the entire All England Club.
It truly is incredible. A qualifying wildcard entrant, after coming through the Roehampton qualies draw without dropping a set, after drawing and stunning idol Venus Williams in the first round, and after backing it up again against veteran grass-court specialist Magdalena Rybarikova, Gauff still had more to give. This story hasn’t ended, and don’t expect it to anytime soon.
Down the 2-5 and two match points midway through a lengthy, topsy-turvy second set, Gauff guided a skidding slice just to the singles line to save one before her own opponent’s nerves coaxed a double fault out of her to save the other. Give Gauff an opening, and she’s gonna go for it.
“When I was walking on the court, I kind of wasn’t nervous, but I was just like, ‘Wow, I’m really on Centre Court, one of the most sacred courts in the world,’” said Gauff.
“When I was down 5-2, I was just like, I can fight back. Just need to hold serve, break, then we’ll see what happens from there.”
In an incredible roller coaster second-set tiebreak, Gauff hung in there and survived a 32-shot rally to force a third and deciding set, pumping up herself, her box, and the 15,000 crowded inside Centre Court with a cry of “let’s go!” It was indeed go time for Gauff.
Showing the poise so far beyond her years she’s shown all week long in London, Gauff hung in there again for the battles and back-and-forths to come in the final set, ultimately pushing Hercog’s strong but shaky serve enough to break in the final game of the match and stun the world with a spot in the Wimbledon second week.
“When [the last shot] was going overhead, I was like, ‘Please go out, please.’ Then after, when I was jumping, I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe it. It’s been one long match, it’s finally over!’”
“I always knew I could come back no matter what the score was and I just kind of went for my shots,” commented Gauff.
“The crowd was amazing. Even when I was down match point, they were still cheering me on. I’m just super thankful that they believe in me.”
“Right now, I’m just super-relieved that it’s over. People say Court 1 is my court but maybe Centre could be now. I always knew I could come back, I just went for my shots. I’m just happy that slice down the line went in,” explained Gauff.
“Even when I was down match point, the crowd were still cheering me on. I’m not going to think about [the next round]. I think I have a mixed doubles match tomorrow so I’m going to focus on that.”
Asked about her emotions on reaching the fourth round and the second week of the biggest tournament in the world at just 15, Gauff said, “I don’t know, it’s just crazy. I remember before I played Venus [Williams], as you know, when you walk to leave the practice courts, there are people waiting. One little kid asked me for a picture. Then after the next day, after I played Venus, everybody was screaming my name. It was pretty surreal how life changes in a matter of seconds.”
She might be coming back to the US already as a Wimbledon fourth-round finisher, already securing $200,000 in prize money, and a global superstar, but some things don’t change. Asked what she’ll do with that money, Gauff simply responded “I can’t buy a car because I can’t drive. Maybe I’m going to buy some hoodies.”
Gauff won’t have it easy at all, with possibly her toughest test of this fairy-tale tournament run so far after two days of rest, facing former French Open champion and seventh seed Simona Halep in a blockbuster Manic Monday fourth round showdown.
Halep, a former world number one, survived and thrived in her own blockbuster test on Friday, halting another former number one Victoria Azarenka’s run here at The Championships, handling a 1-3 deficit in the opening set before winning 11 of the last 12 games to send Azarenka packing in dominant fashion 6-3, 6-1.
Coming into the grass court season with questions surrounding her form, Halep had been up and down throughout most of her matches in Eastbourne and her first two rounds at SW19, but the Romanian came to life after a costly double fault from Azarenka gave her a lifeline to get to 2-3, a chance she would run with to a spot in another major second week.
“I’m very satisfied. I think was my best match this year. I played really well,” said Halep. “I felt actually very confident. I’ve been aggressive all the match, even if I was 3-1 down first set.”
“I expected a tough one. I expected she’s going to play well and she’s going to hit strong, so I knew that. I was ready for the match. I’m really happy that I could win against a player as Vika because she’s a great one,” added the 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist.
Asked about her upcoming blockbuster showdown with the 15 year-old Gauff on Manic Monday, Halep said “The young one, [Gauff] I never played against. I didn’t see a match of her. I know she beat Venus and it’s a good result Playing third round in Wimbledon at 15, it’s great. But I don’t know a lot about her.”
“I have to be stronger the return first. I have to be ready to take my chances and to be confident because I have the chance to win,” concluded Halep.
The Grand Slam second week stage where Halep will shine come Monday is a spot two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka is still desperately hoping to climb back to. Now two years into her comeback to tennis after giving birth to her first child, Leo, the Belarusian has been making strides but was thoroughly disappointed and frustrated with her confusing, erratic performance against Halep.
“I don’t really know what happened. I started a couple of games feeling pretty good but just couldn’t find the court. I missed way too many easy shots, and those things you can’t afford against top players. I mean, not really against anybody. But against top players when you hit like a meter from the net and miss the ball, you’re not going to win,” assessed Azarenka.
“I created all the opportunities but didn’t give myself that chance. To come out and play like that on Centre Court I am very, very disappointed. She kept being solid, taking everything that I was giving, and I gave her a lot.”
Asked about her tough luck during this comeback with some very challenging draws, Azarenka added “I have been getting all the difficult draws everywhere. I don’t think it’s only after I came back. It’s been quite common my whole career. But what can I do about it?”
There was lots of questions asked of three of the tournament’s top remaining seeds on Friday, but all three passed eventually. Defending champion and top seed on the men’s side Novak Djokovic held off NextGen star Hubert Hurkacz of Poland in four sets, booking his spot in week two with a 7-5, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4 scoreline on No. 1 Court.
Title contender and Eastbourne champion Karolina Pliskova handled the variety, trickery, and guile of Su-Wei Hsieh well earlier on No. 1 Court, booking a fourth-round date with fellow Czech Karolina Muchova 6-3, 2-6, 6-4. Meanwhile, first on No. 3 Court, Elina Svitolina claimed an impressive win over Greece’s Maria Sakkari, edging out the 31st seed 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.
One great American’s run came to an end today as the big serving 22 year-old Reilly Opelka, nearly seven feet, fell to another big-server from up north from Canada, Milos Raonic, 7-6, 6-2, 6-1 on Court 12.
“I thought it was good. I did the things I wanted to do,” said Raonic. “You know, when it was important, I played as well as I could have.”
Raonic, in a quarter with Guido Pella, Roberto Bautistas Agut, and Benoit Paire, is starting to round into form and with a favorable draw should be feeling good about his chances for his big serve to pave his way into another Wimbledon semifinal.
It was tough luck for former world number one and 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki on early Friday morning, falling in routine fashion to China’s Shuai Zhang 6-4, 6-2 in just an hour and 21 minutes.
One of the Dane’s biggest issues wasn’t Zhang but the Hawkeye review system on No. 2 Court, saying that due to incorrect placement of the Hawkeye cameras on the court the line reviews and calls from the system were incorrect today.
“I thought there was a few ones that I saw way differently. But it is what it is. You can’t really change a Hawk-Eye call. Maybe it was right. I just saw it differently,” said Wozniacki.
Complaining to the chair umpire during the match, Wozniacki pointed out “that one was far out. This one was maybe close. But it’s out. It’s crazy- how am I losing two points on Hawk-Eye? Obviously it’s wrongly put.”
She followed up saying “it’s so ridiculous. This is supposed to be a Championships match, this is absurd. It’s crazy.”
In her post-match news conference, Wozniacki elaborated. “I mean, at this point it doesn’t matter. It is what it is. Maybe the Hawk-Eye was right. Maybe I just saw it wrong. I don’t know. But you trust Hawk-Eye normally. You trust that it tells you the right thing. Sometimes you do see the balls a little differently than what the Hawk-Eye is. At least you know, okay, you can get it out of your mind. I do believe that it was not in the ideal place today,” assessed the tournament 14th seed.
“Obviously when you think you’ve won the point and then have to replay, that can be frustrating. Again, there’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to keep going, keep playing. That’s really it.”
“He saw it differently and the linesmen saw it differently [to Hawkeye] as well. But then again, there’s nothing you can do about it. It is what it is,” commented Wozniacki.
“That’s what he said, for the next match. Well, I don’t have a next match, so…”
More matches however will continue on Saturday, including a blockbuster battle between Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga slated for second on Centre Court, as the final third-rounders are played at the All England Club prior to the traditional no play on Middle Sunday the following day.