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Ed Curran: Terrific teenager Cori Gauff shows old guard's reign at top may be coming to an end

Classy stuff: Cori Gauff (15) waves to the astonished crowd
Classy stuff: Cori Gauff (15) waves to the astonished crowd

By Ed Curran

We who were privileged to sit at Court One witnessed a 15-year-old, who hardly anyone had ever heard of before, change the course of tennis with an awesome display of sporting fearlessness.

It was just before 7.30pm as the sun dimmed behind the grandstands that Cori Gauff wrote her name in the history of the Wimbledon Championships. It was just then that the entire crowd rose to its feet, saluted and cheered her to the roof.

The youngest competitor to ever qualify for the women's singles stunned us all who sat enthralled at the brazen confidence she displayed.

Those who wondered if ever there was going to be anyone to challenge the dominance of the likes of the William sisters and many more older and experienced stars walked out of the arena believing Cori Gauff was the one.

Amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable. The superlatives flowed amongst the spectators as they watched her performance against one of the most experienced players in the world and one who fought to the very last point to preserve her reputation and avoid defeat.

Gauff, bouncing around on the court, was unfazed by what was the most momentous match she had ever played. She was taking on an icon in Venus Williams, who herself had entered the Wimbledon stage as a teenager more than two decades before and even before Gauff had been born.

From the moment their gladiatorial battle began, there was no hiding place for her or Williams in that packed arena. But neither of them shirked the challenge, literally throwing everything at each other from full-on serves to blistering ground-strokes.

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It was the match of the day. The aged champion, 39 years on, who had won 49 singles and 22 doubles titles and $41m in prize money against this slip of a girl from Atlanta ranked 313 in the world rankings having never played in a Grand Slam before, and with earnings of only $75,000 in her brief career.

No matter. This was her moment and nerveless, fearless and 15 she took it 6-4 6-4 and set alight the tennis world which has been looking in vain for so long for successors to the ageing stars of men's and women's tennis.

In search of a potential new champion, I decided to seek out the young aspirants, whose tongue-twisting names are a commentator's nightmare.

All were on court yesterday afternoon. First up the 18-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was out on the newly refurbished Court 12, with its towering grandstand dominating the skyline.

He struggled and lost the first set but then stormed away to victory in four sets against fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil, who later described him as a star in the making. As the match went on, Felix raised his game and displayed the kind of power on his ground-strokes that has set him apart as a possible future Grand Slam champion.

Next up Stefanos Tsitsipas, the young Greek, who turned out on Court Two, wearing a white bandito, looking like a 21st century version of Bjorn Borg, who won his first Wimbledon at the age of 20 and went on to claim five titles.

Whether Tsitsipas reaches any such heights was far from apparent yesterday when he too lost the first set to unranked Italian Thomas Fabbiano. In the end, he lost in five sets - in comparison to Novak Djokovic's first day performance, he was nowhere near that standard.

Finally, in the men's singles, there was Alexander Zverev, aged 22, tall and powerful, but who has yet to fulfil the view that he is one of the most likely to win Wimbledon. Yesterday, he too ran into trouble on Court One against unranked Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely and in what was the biggest upset of the day lost in four sets.

Meanwhile, gone are the days when the joke was that it took prolonged rain in the opening week to ensure that any British players made it through to even the first weekend.

Yesterday, the first big cheer of the day, echoing across the grounds from showcourt 12 came within two hours of the opening matches, when Heather Watson provided an early victory for the home crowd.

The fact that the match provided 57 unforced errors, 13 double faults and barely 50 per cent of first serves in court hardly inspired confidence that Miss Watson might progress further but British hopes still abound and the odd Union flag was visible amongst the thronged stands.

But, in the early evening, it was left to complete rookie Gauff to provide what was a fairytale ending to the opening day. She did it with a confidence that defied her youth, with a talent which promised so much more to come.

She might have been Venus Williams, more than 20 years ago, entering the Wimbledon arena for the first time.

Instead, she was the young pretender of 2019 who stunned the world of tennis just as Williams had done all those years ago.

And just as no one could have predicted the achievements of Venus Williams or her time at the top, so Gauff has a tennis career ahead of her that will surely bring her more success, fame and wealth.

Belfast Telegraph

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