Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old Wimbledon sensation, is through to the fourth round of the singles bracket, having beaten all of Venus Williams, Magdaléna Rybáriková, and most recently, Polona Hercog. But in the fourth round she will run into an even bigger test than Williams, Rybáriková and Hercog: world No. 7 (and former No. 1) Simona Halep.
It’s not that Halep’s game is specifically catered to beating Gauff, it’s just that she doesn’t typically make very many mistakes. Halep is among the more consistent players on the WTA Tour, so the hope of catching her on a bad day is diminished — not that Gauff’s play would indicate she needs a bad day from her opponent to survive.
Just the opposite, actually. She seems to thrive when her back is against the wall, and her biggest strength is versatility deeper into matches. She makes adjustments on the fly rather than getting bogged down by lacking play. When things aren’t going her way, she battles back, usually trying different stances to keep her opponent guessing.
Gauff’s style matches up well with Halep, but when you have two all-around players squaring off for the first time, it’s easy to favor the one with more experience, like Halep.
They don’t match up uniformly or anything — Halep is much better at the baseline and handling her power from that area of the court will be Gauff’s primary hurdle to clear on Monday. Gauff still has a lot of work to do with her forehand though to her credit, when other players punish her weak forehands, she has the athleticism to recover from them.
Gauff’s run thus far
Gauff, playing in her first Wimbledon tournament, is the youngest player ever to qualify for the Wimbledon main draw. And in her first match, she drew Williams, one of her idols growing up. She made short work of Williams, downing her in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.
Then she faced Rybáriková, who herself was formerly a top 20 player as recently as last year and has 4 singles WTA titles to her name. Rybáriková also had little to offer Gauff, falling quicker than Williams, 6-3, 6-3.
She dropped her first set of the tournament right out of the gate against Polona Hercog, her third-round opponent. Hercog took the opening set, 6-3, but dropped the next two, 7-6(7), 7-5. Hercog consistently punished Gauff’s forehand and the younger player had to fight off two match points, but she ultimately came out on top.
Serena Williams, who Gauff could face, but not until the final, had serious praise for Gauff.
“I would be wrong to step in right now and give her advice,” Serena said. “I think she’s doing great.
“I think there are some 15-year-olds, like me, who wouldn’t know what to do at Wimbledon,” said Serena. “Then you have a 15-year-old like Coco who knows what to do.”
Halep’s run thus far
Halep has never made it to the final at Wimbledon, but she does have a Grand Slam win — at last year’s French Open — and her backhand has always served her well on grass courts.
Halep opened against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, beating her in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5. She had few troubles in that match, but ran into some with her second-round opponent, Mihaela Buzărnescu. She needed three sets to win that match, dropping the second set but cleanly taking the first and third sets, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2.
In the third round, Halep absolutely demolished Victória Azárenka, who only managed to win four games in the match, and only one in the second set. Halep took it, 6-3, 6-1.
Halep started this tennis season without a coach and she’s fallen some in the rankings, but she will present Gauff with her biggest challenge yet. She made it to the quarterfinals of the French Open as the defending champion prior to the start of the grass court season.
The winner of Gauff vs. Halep will advance to the quarterfinals, where they will face the winner of Shuai Zhang vs. Dayana Yastremska. Gauff and Halep will face each other on Monday morning, on No. 1 court following the match between Serena Williams and Carla Suarez Navarro.