August 9, 2022

LONDON — It could have been a devastating day for Coco Gauff.

She had arrived at Wimbledon full of confidence and had just won her first Grand Final at Roland Garros last month. Considered one of the favorites for this tournament, many thought this could be the Grand Slam in which Gauff made her seemingly inevitable breakthrough and won the title.

And on Saturday, with the center court crowd firmly behind her and coming off a dominating second-round victory, a win she later called one of the best tennis she’s played on grass, the young woman 18-year-old seemed quite ready to move on. in the fourth round at Wimbledon for the third time in his third appearance.

Gauff got off to a flying start against fellow American Amanda Anisimova, racing to a 3-0 lead. But nothing was easy after that. Anisimova won the next four matches and Gauff needed a tiebreaker to take the first set.

She only won three more games the rest of the game. In the end, Anisimova, 20, came out on top 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-1 to advance to her first round of 16 at the All England Club, and Gauff received the first outing of his tournament career. Gauff quickly rushed off the field after the match, but several hours – and a mixed doubles victory – later, she could already see the big picture.

“I mean, I’m disappointed, but at the same time I think I did what I could at this point in the game,” Gauff said on Saturday night. “She played well. I mean, I played well at times, and I didn’t play well at times. She was just the better player today.

“So I think there’s a lot of things I think I need to improve on. I feel like I can improve. I feel like it’s over [European] literally travel every day I’ve gotten better, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Now Gauff is turning her attention to her mixed doubles run with Jack Sock – they reached the quarter-finals with another victory on Sunday – and will then focus on the next hard-court game of the summer. Although she was not yet sure of her schedule for the preliminary events before the US Open, one thing is certain: she will remain a candidate for the major final of the year and will have all the expectations and attention that have has followed her since she entered the scene.

Even before her auspicious major debut at the All England Club in 2019, in which she beat longtime idol Venus Williams on center court in her first match and eventually reached the fourth round, hopes were high. for Gauff. Many see her as the next big thing in the sport since playing at the junior level.

Before she could legally drive, she was signed by Roger Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, and was the subject of a bidding war over clothes. His run at Wimbledon three years ago was in many ways just the inevitable next step. And that success only created more buzz.

But there were restrictions on how much she could play on tour due to her age, and the coronavirus pandemic disrupted much of the 2020 season. But while the casual fan might have been disappointed by her lack of big results on the Grand Slam stage, Gauff continued to improve her game and achieved steady results on tour. She won two singles titles, in Linz and Parma, and four doubles titles, including her first of any kind at the 1000 level in Doha, Qatar (with Jessica Pegula) in February. She reached the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros in 2021, and she made the doubles final (with Catherine McNally) at the US Open in September.

And then she had the best result of her career at Roland-Garros. Gauff didn’t drop a set en route to the final and never needed more than 90 minutes on the court. As the former big champions and top seeds continued to fall into her half of the table, she confessed to her doubles partner Pegula that she knew people now expected her to win her matches, but she was not impressed.

Everything, it seemed, was falling into place exactly as it should.

But Iga Swiatek was just too good in the final, and there was never a doubt in her 6-1, 6-3 thrashing of Gauff. The American couldn’t hide her tears at the end, but she still knew there was something to be happy about.

“I know I said a lot, ‘Oh, it’s just a tennis match, you know, it doesn’t matter,’ [but] really, that’s what I believe,” Gauff said after the French Open final. “It doesn’t matter. I mean, with the emotions now, I feel it a lot, but tomorrow I’m going to wake up and be really proud of myself.”

With the season then turning to grass – a surface Gauff has had success on before and one Swiatek has limited experience on – Gauff was a betting favorite to win the Wimbledon title. She reached the semi-finals of her only top tournament in Berlin. Even Rafael Nadal praised her fighting spirit and predicted that she would one day be a “multiple Grand Slam winner” earlier this week.

But it was not to be. Not this time.

There have been many teenagers on tour to win Grand Slam titles over the years, including Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, and more recently with players such as Bianca Andreescu and Emma Raducanu. There’s been a lot of talk about Gauff joining the esteemed roster, and she still has plenty of time to do so, but it doesn’t seem like something she’s obsessed over.

“It’s more about the media than coming from her,” said ESPN analyst Alexandra Stevenson, who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals as an 18-year-old qualifier in 1999. such a great perspective on what is expected of her. She’s just taking it one day at a time, and not caring what other people think. Everyone has an opinion, but all she has to do is listen to her parents, her coaches and herself.

“No one else is [opinions] question. And that’s what she does. She believes in herself, knows she can do it, and she’s doing great. Even when she loses, she knows what she has to work on and she will immediately return to work.”

Perhaps ironically, or perhaps because of the extra attention, Gauff had the worst results of her brief career at the US Open. She reached the third round on her debut in 2019, then lost in her first match in 2020 and in the second round in 2021. But she said she wouldn’t even think about the tournament or the hard-court season until on his way to Wimbledon. was over.

On Saturday night, just hours after the loss, Gauff was back on the pitch. This time it was the smaller No. 3 court, and she was joined by Sock, but she was just as excited to be there as she was on center court. The duo, who reunited via Twitter, won their first-round match 6-4, 6-1, and their partnership has given them a new focus for now.

“Right after the game [against Anisimova] I was so disappointed. Then I was, like, ‘I’m still in mixed; I’m just going to have fun there. I had a lot of fun. I laughed, smiled on each point. With the intensity of singles and even doubles, it’s not really often [to be able to do that].

“Yeah, for me it was kind of crazy to play with him. It was definitely a to-do list for me, and I’m glad I got to do it. Hopefully we can keep winning .”