Coco has a heart of steel
The notion of a 15-year-old being blown away on Centre Court was dispelled by the sheer guts and raw steel of Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff.
At the end, the new superstar threw her racket to the ground and held both hands aloft. Joy and rapture abounded after gripping drama. Whatever we come to say about this emerging talent in the years to come, we will surely salute her as much for her grit as the guile she also brought to last night’s entertainment.
She had looked for all the world out of the contest, beaten, it seemed, by the power of the hard-hitting Polona Hercog on the other side of the net. She was being tested with a barrage that kept her pinned on the baseline and there, at that moment, she looked no older than her tender years.
We were ready to say that she had done well and would come back one day older and better equipped for the task ahead.
But that was not the way with young Coco yesterday. She produced a brilliant backhand slice at 5-2 down in the second set, bending the ball in like a magic trick while off balance, and then survived a further match point when her opponent double faulted.
The crowd at this point had been almost resigned to Coco losing. One voice tried to exhort her with the aphorism: ‘Pressure is a privilege.’
It broke the ice if not the world record for humour. But Coco kept her composure, drawing inspiration with her own family and friends to the side of the royal box. Her mother Candi and father Corey, who provide her athletics genes, were there and hollering when the time presented itself.
What a whirlwind it has been for them and the extended family watching back home on Florida’s Atlantic coast — with cold beers. The Paradise Sports Bar and Lounge, in Delray Beach, is owned by Corey and the place was abuzz.
By winning yesterday she became the youngest player to reach a fourth-round match at Wimbledon since Jennifer Capriati in 1991. Capriati was also 15, the most precocious of all, bringing troubles and torment to her along the way.
It is too early to know what being shoved in the limelight will mean for Gauff’s psyche, but there is certainly no harm done to her thus far. ‘It was my first match on Centre Court,’ she said afterwards, smiling from ear to ear. ‘People say No 1 is my court but it might be Centre now.
‘I could never have dreamed of this, but I always believed I could come back no matter what the score was.’
She is so self-controlled we should ask to see her passport for verification.
So well did Gauff do that she caused a headache for organisers, pushing Sir Andy Murray and his scheduled match with mixed doubles partner Serena Williams off last night’s order of play.
Having overcome the two match points, she took the second set into a tiebreak. The crowd again roared their support and 35 minutes after she had faced her first match point, she took the set 9-7.
If she has the look of Venus Williams in her movement, she has some of the guts of Serena.
Coco has played since she was six and her mother, though slow to recognise her true potential, knew she had the work ethic from the start.
‘She was running after every ball,’ said Candi. ‘Her desire never changed so we knew as parents that we wanted to give her the best opportunity to be successful. She just needed training.’
She is now coached by Jean-Christophe Faurel as part of the ‘Team Mouratoglou’, named after the academy in France, with other such rising stars as Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Gauff was unperturbed when Hercog took a prolonged break for treatment at the end of the second set. The teenager might have been left to ponder the new world she was inhabiting and let the pressure get to her, but that did not seem to be the case.
Her form remained intact in the third set through all the vicissitudes. She had physical strength too. This was demanding as the match ticked on close to three hours but she did not waver a touch, nor did Hercog let her off by wilting. The competition was fierce.
Time and again Gauff got close to the line without being able to force the match point. Finally, it came when Hercog hit limply into the net. Then she hit the last shot of the match long. The place erupted.Daily Mail