Gauff

The Saline Courier - - SPORTS -

loss be­fore,” said Gauff, who is based in Florida. “I don’t even know how to ex­plain how I feel.”

This was her third tourlevel match; Williams has played more than 1,000. This was Gauff’s first match at Wimbledon, where Williams has played more than 100 and won five ti­tles. By the time Gauff was born in 2004, Williams al­ready had spent time at No. 1 in the rank­ings and owned four of her seven Grand Slam sin­gles tro­phies.

“It didn’t re­ally seem real, for a mo­ment,” said Gauff’s fa­ther, Corey, be­tween hand­shakes and slaps on the back and re­quests for self­ies from spec­ta­tors leav­ing No. 1 Court. “On the walk to the court, I was walk­ing

behind her. She was ex­cited. I was ex­cited. She seemed con­fi­dent, but I wasn’t sure if it was false con­fi­dence or she re­ally was. I just said to her: This match is re­ally mag­i­cal. Just en­joy it. Your first Wimbledon main draw and you’re on a main court against some­body you looked up to from the be­gin­ning.”

It was by far the most an­tic­i­pated match of Day 1 at the grass-court tour­na­ment, but hardly the only up­set. Two-time ma­jor cham­pion Naomi Osaka, who was No. 1 un­til a week ago, lost 7-6 (4), 6-2 to Yu­lia Putin­seva, join­ing two young mem­bers of the men’s top-10, No. 6 seed Alexander Zverev and No. 7 seed Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas, on the way out.

This one, though, was spe­cial, po­ten­tially the sort of chang­ing-of-the-guard

mo­ment that peo­ple could re­mem­ber for years.

Gauff cer­tainly has the mind­set of some­one who in­tends to go far.

“I’ve said this be­fore: I want to be the great­est. My dad told me that I could do this when I was 8. Ob­vi­ously you never be­lieve it. I’m still, like, not 100 per­cent con­fi­dent. But, like, you have to just say things. You never know what hap­pens,” she said. “If I went into this match say­ing, ‘Let’s see how many games I can get against her,’ then I most def­i­nitely would not have won. My goal was to play my best. My dream was to win. That’s what hap­pened.”

How far does she think she can fare this fortnight?

“My goal,” she said, her face ex­pres­sion­less, “is to win it.”

Well, then ...

Gauff came into the week out­side the top 300 but was granted a wild card by the All Eng­land Club to en­ter qual­i­fy­ing. She rolled through those rounds at a nearby site, knock­ing off the event’s top seed.

But this was a whole other task.

Gauff was sen­sa­tional and showed zero signs that the mo­ment or the matchup was too daunt­ing for her.

It’s the sort of un­usual calm and steady way she has pro­gressed through the var­i­ous lev­els of youth ten­nis, in­clud­ing reach­ing the U.S. Open ju­nior fi­nal at 13 and win­ning the French Open ju­nior ti­tle at 14.

The first set was re­mark­able: Gauff had 10 win­ners to only two un­forced er­rors, all the while trad­ing pow­er­ful ground­strokes at the base­line with Williams, and never

fac­ing a break point.

“The sky’s the limit,” Williams said. “It re­ally is.”

Gauff, who is black, idol­ized Williams and her younger sis­ter, Ser­ena, the first African Amer­i­can women since Althea Gib­son in the 1950s to win a Grand Slam sin­gles cham­pi­onship.

Ser­ena has said Gauff re­minds her of Venus.

Af­ter Mon­day’s match, Gauff said she thanked Venus “for ev­ery­thing she did.”

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” said Gauff, who joined the crowd in ap­plaud­ing for Venus as she walked off the court. “And I was just telling her that she’s so inspiring. Like, I al­ways wanted to tell her that.

And even though I met her be­fore, I guess now I have the guts to.”

She showed plenty of grit

in this match, par­tic­u­larly af­ter get­ting bro­ken to make it 4-all in the sec­ond set. Gauff stead­ied her­self right there, though, break­ing right back with a pair of fore­hand pass­ing shots that drew er­rant vol­leys.

And then in the fi­nal game, Gauff needed to erase the dis­ap­point­ment of wast­ing her ini­tial three match points. She did just that, con­vert­ing her fourth when Venus put a fore­hand into the net.

Many 15-year-olds might spend an early sum­mer day at the beach or at a mall.

This one played a ten­nis match at Wimbledon against Venus Williams — and won.

“Peo­ple just kind of limit them­selves too much. Once you ac­tu­ally get your goal, then it’s like: What do you do now?” Gauff said. “I like to shoot re­ally high.”

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