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They're the reason I play tennis: Cari Gauff hails Williams sisters after ousting Venus at Wimbledon

 

Emotional ride: Cori Gauff stays in the zone
Emotional ride: Cori Gauff stays in the zone
Cori Gauff showing her disbelief
Cori Gauff being congratulated by Venus Williams at the net after her victory

By Andy Sims

Cori Gauff overcame a 24-year age gap to stun Venus Williams on her Wimbledon debut.

The 15-year-old American is the youngest woman to qualify for the tournament in the Open era but she played like a veteran in a superb 6-4 6-4 victory.

Gauff served superbly, being broken only once, and showed tremendous composure in her first main draw match at a Grand Slam, making just eight unforced errors compared to 25 for her 39-year-old opponent.

Williams won two of her five Wimbledon singles titles before Gauff was born and this was only the second time she has been beaten in the first round since her debut in 1997.

While Williams has been setting records at one end of the age scale, Gauff has been breaking them at the other, reaching her first Junior Slam final at the US Open aged just 13.

She won the French Open title last year and, on this evidence, she is ready to make a big impression in the senior game.

Gauff was inspired to pick up a racket by the Williams sisters and for Venus it must have been like facing a teenage version of herself as her opponent fired down serves over 110mph and scampered around the court with her long levers.

Gauff is already a terrific athlete and Williams was simply unable to hit through her. What was most impressive, though, was the way she constructed points, playing close to the lines but rarely too close and using angles to open up the court.

A break for 3-2 set her on the way to the first set without facing a break point and, when Williams double-faulted twice in a row, Gauff, who sat an online science exam at 11pm before her final qualifying match, moved 3-2 ahead in the second.

She seemed to feel the occasion for the first time serving at 4-3, double-faulting to hand back the break, but she forced another break of the Williams serve in the next game to leave herself serving for the match.

A tense game saw Williams save three match points before creating one break point, which Gauff saved with a 108mph second serve. When her fourth opportunity came, the teenager took it, and dropped to the court.

"They're the reason why I wanted to pick up a tennis racket," Gauff said of Venus and her younger sister, Serena. "And I met them both, and they're both super kind people, and I'm just super happy and thankful that they chose to play tennis."

Third seed Karolina Pliskova had to save three set points in the second against China's Zhu Lin before coming through 6-2 7-6 (4).

Pliskova is among the big favourites to win the title and arrived at the All England Club having blitzed the field to lift the trophy at Eastbourne.

But she was not at her best against Zhu, who has never won a Grand Slam match, and the Chinese held set point three times serving at 6-5. Pliskova managed to break, though, and came out on top in the tie-break.

The Czech, who has only once made it past the second round here, said: "It's tough to compare with the week in Eastbourne. I think it was quite normal. Of course, it went a little bit longer, and I almost dropped a set. It's still almost. I played two sets, that's fine.

"I think my timing was a little bit off. I just didn't have any chance to hit on the match courts, which I felt were totally different than Aorangi (practice) courts."

Seventh seed Simona Halep was given a tough battle by Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich before a 6-4 7-5 victory.

Halep, who has made the quarter-finals twice and the semi-finals once, trailed 5-2 in the second set and had to save a set point at 5-4 before sealing victory with five games in a row.

Halep suffered a nasty-looking slip during the first set and called for the trainer prior to the start of the second.

The Romanian said: "It's okay in this moment. But I need to do the treatment. I feel it a little bit. I think it's a little bit stretched, the muscle behind the knee, and also the Achilles. Hopefully it's nothing dangerous and I can recover."

Halep has measured expectations here.

"Well, I said this year it's a chill year and I'm not putting pressure on myself," she said. "So I'm not analysing much.

"I just want to go on court and to see how good I can be this year. Next year maybe I will push a little bit more. Now I feel happy on court, I feel good. I just try to win every match I play. Nothing else on my mind."

That appetite for a more normal life may pay dividends down the track. "When I lose a match now, I'm not making a disaster of it," she said.

"I'm still motivated. I'm still ambitious. But, you know, I don't say, 'Okay, I'm here and I have to do this...', I'm taking things easier. I feel much better. I feel more relaxed. I try just to improve in other ways, not only on tennis way.

Eighth seed Elina Svitolina was a 7-5 6-0 winner over Daria Gavrilova but last year's junior champion, Pole Iga Swiatek, was beaten by Viktorija Golubic.

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