Wimbledon: “My belief is a lot stronger now,” says Gauff

  • Matt Trollope

The last time we saw Coco Gauff on Centre Court at Wimbledon, “Coco-mania” was in full swing. 

It was 2019, and the American, then only 15 years old, had stunned Venus Williams on her way to the third round, where she debuted on the world’s most famous court against Polona Hercog.

Hercog moved ahead 6-3 5-2 and held a match point, but Gauff, a qualifier ranked No.313, staged a remarkable comeback, and won.

That match was the highest-rated television broadcast of the Championships until the men’s semifinal between Federer and Nadal, and made Gauff a superstar.

Two years on and now ranked in the top 25, Gauff returned to the site of that memorable triumph to play Elena Vesnina – and admitted she was even more nervous than she was two years prior.

“I think the walk (to Centre Court) is kind of what made me nervous,” said Gauff, after beating the Russian veteran 6-4 6-3 to return to the third round.

“Like before and warming up, and last night, I wasn't nervous. I think it was really the walk.

“I think the biggest thing is I don't really remember much from my Centre Court experience in 2019. I felt like it was all a blur. But going in today I feel like a completely different player and person. 

“It wasn't my best tennis today, but I think mentally I gave a good performance considering how nervous I was.”

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It is quite incredible how far Gauff has come in those two years. 

She now owns two WTA titles – Linz 2019 and Parma 2021 – and recently advanced to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros, where she held set points against eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova. 

Seeded 20th at the All England Club, Gauff next faces world No.102 Kaja Juvan and will attempt to reach the fourth round again; in 2019 it was there that she ultimately fell to Simona Halep.

“My goal is to always win the tournament. That goal I guess is more clear right now than it was in 2019. I think just my belief is a lot stronger now, the feeling that I can go far.”
Coco Gauff

And in a wide open women’s draw, many are expecting big things from the teenage sensation.

“I try not to put expectations on myself,” Gauff countered. “At least only put the ones that I can control … (like) how I act on the court and how I carry myself.

“I don't really like the word 'expectations', I think I use more the other word 'belief.' I believe that I can win. I think I believed that back in 2019, and I believe that now. 

“My goal is to always win the tournament regardless of my ranking or what people think of me. 

“What I will say is that goal I guess is more clear right now than it was in 2019. I think just my belief is a lot stronger now, the feeling that I can go far.”

Kyrgios continues to light up Wimbledon

Another player competing free of expectations is Nick Kyrgios, who beat Gianluca Mager in straight sets to reach the last 32 for the fifth time in seven visits to Wimbledon.

It is a remarkable result, given Kyrgios has not played a tournament since the Australian Open in February, and is competing for the first time outside of his homeland in 16 months. 

Fans have been thrilled by his showmanship – some have even provided tactical advice from the stands, to which he has responded – and the media have loved hearing him candidly discuss his mental perspective, marketing the sport, other players, the nuances of grass, and the culture of tennis, among many other topics.

The one thing underpinning his refreshed, relaxed attitude?

“I just feel like I don't put as much pressure on myself anymore,” Kyrgios explained. 

“When I was younger, it was hard to deal with all the criticism that … everyone gave me. 'He should be doing this, he should be achieving this. He's not doing this enough.'

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“It beat me down to a point of very bad depression. I wasn't even enjoying myself. Like, I wasn't even coming to Wimbledon and enjoying myself. I was not embracing this amazing event.

“Now I just enjoy it when I'm out there. I breathe in the fresh air. Like, I don't take anything for granted. I just feel like I'm comfortable.

“I'm okay with not winning Grand Slams. I know that's going to make a lot of people angry. (But) it's not your life, it's mine. I'm okay with just enjoying myself, putting on a show. 

“Not everyone can be a Federer, a Djokovic or a Nadal. I'm Nick Kyrgios. I know who I am.”

Medvedev eyes Cilic clash

Like Kyrgios, No.2 seed Daniil Medvedev was a straight-sets winner on Thursday – he beat Spanish rising star Carlos Alcaraz – and will now line up against 32nd seed Marin Cilic, the 2017 Wimbledon finalist.

The Russian is wary of the threat that lays before him, delivering a cautious response to a question about meeting Alexander Zverev in the semifinals, should the seedings hold: “You need to take it match by match. If you lose third round you're not going to be in the final.”

In fact, he demonstrated incredible recall of Cilic’s career, an indication he is not underestimating the resurgent Croat, who is a recent title winner on grass in Stuttgart.

“He was in the final here in Wimbledon, almost beat Roger (in 2016), was close. Tough draw, tough opponent. Huge respect to him,” Medvedev said. 

“I think, if I'm not mistaken, I was playing futures in France in a town called Mulhouse where I won doubles with Karen Khachanov. I might be. That's when he won the US Open.

“I remember it was huge. He beat basically Kei in the final. I think in semis he beat – who did he beat? I don't remember. Roger, Rafa? Roger, I guess.

“Anyway, it was amazing because he was one of not so many to win a major in the era of the Big Four where they were on top. This is a huge achievement. That's why I have a lot of respect for him.”