WIMBLEDON, England — Coco Gauff’s dreamy first Wimbledon came to an end in the fourth round on Monday.
Gauff, a precocious 15-year-old American, was defeated, 6-3, 6-3, by Simona Halep, the No. 7 seed and a former No. 1 player, who proved too consistent and resourceful from the baseline for the 313th-ranked youngster.
But Monday’s defeat hardly erased the impact that Gauff made in the first week of her first Wimbledon. After receiving a wild card into the qualifying tournament, she won six straight matches: three in qualifying and three in the main singles draw. She defeated the five-time Wimbledon singles champion Venus Williams and the veterans Magdalena Rybarikova and Polona Hercog.
But Halep, an established top player in her prime, was a step up, with her fine returns and ability to counterpunch on the move.
Though Gauff was often brilliant in the early going on Monday on the same No. 1 Court where she defeated Williams and Rybarikova, she could not sustain her level of play. Her forehand, a fine shot but not yet a great shot, often was the weak link in the long and fast-twitch baseline rallies.
“I learned a lot,” Gauff said. “I learned how to play in front of a big crowd. I learned what it was like to be under pressure. I learned a lot and I’m really thankful for this experience.”
She said she was not feeling 100 percent. She was visited by a trainer during the match to deal with what appeared to be a stomach problem.
Gauff was the youngest player to reach the fourth round of the women’s singles at Wimbledon since Jennifer Capriati reached the semifinals in 1991 at 15.
Like Capriati in her time, Gauff already has the weapons and the athleticism to give her elders quite a challenge. Her two-handed backhand is a pure stroke. Her serve is already one of the most powerful on the tour, and her second serve is difficult to attack. She is also remarkably fast: clean winners against her have been rare at Wimbledon.
But the intangibles are exciting, too. She has a highly evolved court sense and an ability to change tactics that is rare in a teenager.
It helped her come back from a 3-6, 2-5 deficit against Hercog, saving two match points. She tried different approaches against Halep as well: pushing forward to net to shorten rallies, slicing forehands and mixing blocked returns with blasted ones.
To Halep’s credit, she cracked only on occasion. Playing a very talented 15-year-old crowd darling with very little to lose is not easy to navigate. Halep, for all her skill, has not always shown such mental strength, but after failing to defend her French Open title last month, she has come back strong at Wimbledon, getting counsel in training from her longtime mentor Ion Tiriac and her former coach Darren Cahill.
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