American ten star Cori Gauff came through an epic three-set match against Polona Hercog to continue her remarkable winning run at Wimbledon, saving two match points in a dramatic 3-6 7-6 (9-7) 7-5 victory.
The 15-year-old – the youngest qualifier at the Championship in the Open Era – becomes the youngster player since Jennifer Capriati in 1991 to make the fourth round, and is likely to move up into the top 150 rankings too.
Having already seen off Venus Williams and Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets, Slovenia’s Hercog – ranked No.60 in the world – proved a far more difficult test. Gauff, who also goes by the nickname ‘Coco’, made an uncharacteristically nervy start out on Centre Court, taken to deuce in both her opening service games before Hercog finally broke in the third.
While the teenager had taken charge in her first two matches, now it was the intimidating Hercog – covered in tattoos and with a skull on her shirt – who had no interest in being bullied. She frustrated Gauff with a seemingly never-ending onslaught of slices, suddenly injecting vicious power into rallies – and the American had no answer, losing 13 points in a row.
Hercog broke again at the end of the first set to claim it, and didn’t have to wait long for another at the start of the second. By this point, Coco had lost seven straight games, her serve disappearing and seemingly wilting on the biggest stage. But then, quite unexpectedly, something in the atmosphere on Centre Court changed. A fired up Gauff saved match point on her own serve, forcing Hercog to see it out, and for the first time the Slovenian started to look nervous.
She wasted another match point as Coco rallied, breaking serve for the first time to draw level in the second set and fist-pumping to her box. Another couple of holds and she had, in quite unlikely fashion, forced a tiebreak. Hercog was looking tense now, more and more errors creeping into her game, and, after a ludicrous challenge from the increasingly rattled Slovenian, Coco claimed the set as Centre Court – and her parents – went wild.
A medical timeout followed, Hercog perhaps trying to regain some composure, and after briefly rediscovering some of her early intensity, Gauff broke the 28-year-old – and then held to love. Hercog later broke back, but now found herself serving to stay in the match; it was the older player who looked out-gunned and under pressure now. Then Gauff struck the final blow, another long rally, a magical pick-up and a lob from Hercog… but it was long. Coco had won.
Gauff will now take on former world No.1 Simona Halep in the fourth round on Monday, who beat Victoria Azarenka in straight sets earlier in the day, and it looks like one of the stand-out matches on an already rammed day of action.
Photo Credit: Getty