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Gauff has the teen spirit to light up SW19

 

Star is born: Cori Gauff (15) on way to a thrilling victory over Polona Hercog on Centre Court last night
Star is born: Cori Gauff (15) on way to a thrilling victory over Polona Hercog on Centre Court last night

By Jonathan Veal

Cori Gauff is not ready for her remarkable Wimbledon journey to end just yet as she fought off two match points to beat Polona Hercog and move into the fourth round.

The 15-year-old has been the story of the Championships so far, having come through qualifiers to beat Venus Williams in the first round, but it looked like it was coming to an end with Hercog on the brink of a straight-sets victory.

But Gauff climbed off the canvas and showed she has a strong fighting spirit to add to her precocious talent, earning a 3-6 7-6 (7) 7-5 win over the Slovenian.

Whatever happens next, her performance will be remembered alongside the likes of Boris Becker and Martina Hingis in terms of outstanding teenage stars at the All England Club.

She moves into the second week on her maiden Grand Slam main draw appearance and will now meet Simona Halep in the fourth round on Monday.

It is a match destined for another big show court and, on this evidence, she has every chance of claiming her biggest scalp yet against the former World No.1.

This was her Centre Court debut, but the crowd soon took her to their hearts, even before her impressive comeback.

Nerves perhaps got the better of her to begin with as for the best part of two sets she barely laid a glove on the World No.60.

Gauff's serve was under constant threat from the start, saving early break points, before it was finally breached at 4-3 and Hercog took the first set thanks to another weak service game where the American sent down three double faults.

The hangover of that continued into the second set as Hercog sealed a third successive break, with Gauff's forehand regularly faltering.

She finally stopped a rot of seven successive games for her opponent with a hold to love, but was unable to make any headway in her return games as Hercog protected her lead with ease.

Hercog's first match point came and went on Gauff's serve at 3-5, with a second arriving a game later when she was serving for the match.

That is when Gauff came to life, replicating the energy that saw her dump out Williams and then Magdalena Rybarikova in the second round.

She broke Hercog's serve when she had no other option and then finally battered down the obdurate defence of her opponent's backhand slice to take a thrilling tie-break 9/7.

A third set was the last thing the 28-year-old needed as she had a medical timeout, and it looked like the youth of Gauff would carry her through as she raced into a 4-1 lead.

Hercog, continuing to draw errors with her backhand slice, fought her way back to 4-4, but, as she applied ice to her legs at the change of ends, the longer it went on the more likely Gauff was to win and that is how it turned out.

She forced Hercog into several errors at 6-5 and won with her first match point as the Slovenian sent a forehand lob from the back of the court long, sparking some of the most memorable Centre Court scenes in recent times.

Meanwhile, former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova served superbly to beat Hsieh Su-Wei 6-3 2-6 6-4 and reach the Wimbledon fourth round for the second time.

Czech third seed Pliskova fired down 14 aces on Court One to counter the unorthodox Hsieh's fast feet and soft hands, securing victory in an hour and 46 minutes.

"I thought my serve was amazing today... I'd love to call myself a specialist on grass," Pliskova said. "This year I'm doing better and I've made the second week.

"On grass she's a very tough opponent, she's done a good job the past couple of months and I'm just super pleased that I've made it," added Pliskova, who lost to Hsieh in Dubai this year.

"There's nobody like this playing any more in the draw, so I think I'll feel much better in the next match after this test," Pliskova added.

Both players started the opening set strongly before an unusually untidy game by World No.16 Hsieh allowed Pliskova to claim a welcome break for a 5-3 lead.

That was the opening the 27-year-old needed as she switched gears and closed out the set with her sixth ace.

Hsieh responded with an early break in the second set to race 4-2 ahead and the 33-year-old Taiwanese saved four break points in the seventh game before taking the match into a decider.

Pliskova, who beat last year's Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber in the Eastbourne final last week, put Hsieh on the back foot with searing groundstrokes early in the third set to break for a 3-1 lead.

Appearing less rattled by Hsieh's variations as the match wore on, Pliskova staved off a late comeback attempt by Hsieh to close out victory.

Up next for Pliskova is Czech compatriot Karolina Muchova, who beat 20th seed Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (7) 6-3.

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