WIMBLEDON, England — Do not get the wrong idea about Coco Gauff and assume that, just because she’s already displayed so much talent and promise by age 17, occasions such as Thursday’s, when she played a woman twice her age at Centre Court, are in any way glossed over as “Been there, done that.”
This is, after all, the most famous arena in tennis. This is, after all, Wimbledon. And Gauff is, after all, still relatively new to a lot of this: She began the week having played a total of two grass-court events and seven Grand Slam tournaments, one of which, of course, was her captivating run to the fourth round at the All England Club as a 15-year-old qualifier two years ago.
So, yes, there was some shakiness early against Elena Vesnina, a 34-year-old Russian who said afterward, “I saw that she was nervous.” Gauff acknowledged so afterward. So maybe that’s why she was the first to face break points. Or managed merely one groundstroke winner in the opening set. Still, the newcomer did what veterans do — find a way — and emerged with a 6-4, 6-3 victory to return to Wimbledon’s third round.
“With a little bit of adversity for the first time, she went for her shots and she stayed committed to the serve,” said Gauff’s father, Corey. “So I was impressed with that — her poise.”
That matters at this level and on these stages, where one bad afternoon can send someone home.
While many familiar faces still are chasing the men’s title this fortnight — eight-time champion Roger Federer and No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, No. 4 Alexander Zverev and No. 7 Matteo Berrettini all won; No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s bid for a sixth title resumes Friday — Elina Svitolina’s loss Thursday means eight of the top 11 women in the WTA rankings are missing from the bracket due to defeat, withdrawal or injury.
“Mentally, for sure, I need to reset. I need to rest,” No. 3 seed Svitolina said after producing 20 fewer winners than her foe in a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Magda Linette. “I need to feel, again, fresh to play the upcoming tournaments.”
No. 1 Ash Barty, who retired mid-match against Linette at the French Open last month because of a hip injury, was not at her best but overcame nine double-faults to advance with a 6-4, 6-3 win on a day with no rain, some slices of blue sky and even the sun sneaking through the clouds as the temperature finally topped 70 degrees Fahrenheit (20 Celsius).
“Not my best serving day,” Barty said. “I was just out of rhythm a little bit. Some days you feel like you’re 8 feet tall and you can’t miss the box. Other days, like today, you feel like you’re 3-foot-nothing.”
Gauff’s serve provided nine aces, including seven in the first set when a lot else wasn’t really working.
A 118 mph delivery on match point was dumped in the net by Vesnina. Up in the player guest box, Gauff’s parents rose. Dad clapped, then kissed Mom, who captured their daughter’s moment with a cellphone camera. It was a bit more subdued than the raucous celebrations two years ago, when Gauff was a revelation.
Ranked outside the Top 300 and the youngest player to make it through qualifying in tournament history, she went on to beat five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round and 2017 semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova in the second, before saving two match points to get past Polona Hercog in the main stadium.
Next came a fourth-round exit against Simona Halep, who went on to collect the trophy (three of Gauff’s major appearances ended with losses to the eventual champion, including Barbora Krejcikova at the just-concluded French Open).
“The biggest thing is, I don’t really remember much from my Centre Court experience in 2019,” said Gauff, who is based in Florida. “I don’t know. I felt like it was all a blur.”
Back then, everything was so fresh and new and unexpected. The question on everyone’s mind: Is she really doing this?
Now the vibe is: She most certainly can.
Her parents know it. So do the spectators. And the 20th-seeded Gauff’s opponents.
“Such a talented and promising player,” said Vesnina, a three-time Grand Slam champion in women’s doubles who was treated by a trainer for a back spasm she said was caused by stretching to try to reach Gauff’s serves. “She has a bright future in front of her.”
Sure does. Most important, Gauff herself knows it.
“I don’t really like the word ‘expectations.’ I don’t like that word. I think I use more the other word: ‘belief.’ I believe that I can win. I think I believed that back in 2019, and I believe that now. I don’t think anything has changed. My goal is to always win the tournament, regardless of my ranking or what people think of me,” she said. “What I will say is that goal, I guess, is more clear right now than it was in 2019. I think just my belief is a lot stronger now, the feeling that I can go far.”