And so, following the most remarkable of runs, Cori Gauff’s Wimbledon fairytale comes to an end. After felling her idol Venus Williams, before beating Magdalena Rybarikova and later battling from the brink against Polona Hercog, the challenge posed by Simona Halep, a former world No 1, proved too great to overcome. But make no doubt: on account of what we have seen here at the All England Club, the precocious youngster will be back.
In a spirited display that once again showcased the very best of her flourishing talents – from her thunderous baseline sweeps to deft drop shots – the American ultimately came up short against the 2018 French Open champion, who claimed a 6-3 6-3 victory in one hour and 14 minutes.
Gauff brought out the very best of the Romanian, whose consistency and defensive steel settled this tie in her favour. Her ability to cover every blade of grass here on Court One ensured that the American’s attempts to spring a surprise came up short. Scurrying back and forth across her baseline, while venturing deep into her forecourt when necessary, Halep’s athleticism provided an appropriate antidote to the teenager’s power and precision.
Two of Halep’s last three losses have been to teenagers – the 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova and 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova – but there was to be no upset this time around as she secured her place in the quarter-finals of these Wimbledon Championships, where she’ll now face China’s Shuai Zhang.
Looking back on her experiences at Wimbledon over the past eight days, Gauff said: “I learned a lot. 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.
“I lost second round of qualifying in Paris. Now I made it to the second week. I’m super proud of myself. I’m excited to see what I’ll do at US Open and the next couple tournaments coming up.
She added: “I’m only 15. I’ve not nearly gotten or developed my game. I started tennis at six. I’m so excited to see, if I continue to work hard, what other success I can do in the future.”
The scale of the task facing Gauff, the first 15-year-old to reach Wimbledon’s last-16 since Martina Hingis in 1996, was made evident in the first game of the opening set, with the 28-year-old Romanian immediately breaking.
Despite saving one break point, Gauff was unable to stave off her opponent. After committing to the net following a lengthy rally, the American chose to leave a floated return from Halep that, much to the disappointment of the crowd, whose allegiances were clear from the start, landed plum on the sideline. Halep was ahead.
Undeterred, Gauff provided the perfect response, breaking back immediately, before going on to hold her serve. But Halep struck two games later with another break to reclaim the advantage.
By this stage, the Romanian was quickly taking her game through its many gears. An effervescent bundle of mass, constantly on the move, her two piston legs pumping away, shots from her forehand and backhand flooding Gauff’s court, this was Halep at her best.
At 3-2, the American threatened another break, taking the game momentarily to deuce. But Halep’s class saw her through. With advantage, the Romanian held onto her serve with one of the shots of the match: a reaching forehand slice that drifted cruelly beyond the face of Gauff, landing beyond her right shoulder, well out of reach.
It was a moment that summed up the match. For all the power of Gauff, who had pushed her opponent out wide with an explosive forehand shot that seemed to accelerate upon impact with the turf, she remained unable to break Hales’s defensive guard, which remained resolute from start to finish.
The next break came at 5-3, with Halep quickly rushing to three set points as she applied the pressure. Gauff saved one – after successfully challenging a forehand shot that was judged to have gone long – but the Romanian soon saw out the set with a clinical forehand winner.
From there, the gulf in quality between the two women was laid bare as the world No 7 consolidated her grip on the match.
As with the first set, Gauff was broken immediately, taking the score to 2-0. The American returned the favour but by the sixth game she had once again thrown away her serve, netting on the backhand to hand Halep the momentum.
This break was to prove decisive, the Romanian maintaining her composure for the rest of the set before serving out for victory.
Gauff’s fairytale may be over but this won’t be the last we see of the teenager. The question, now, is how far will she go in the years ahead? How high will she climb? If her performances here at the All England Club are anything to go by, the youngster looks set to rise all the way to the top.
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