July 3, 2020
Coco Gauff will never forget the first Friday of Wimbledon 2019 – and neither will we.
So far it was her finest hour. The day that defines America’s new superstar.
How we long to see Coco in action once more at Wimbledon 2021!
Last year she came back from the dead to give Centre Court one of its biggest thrills in modern times.
We thought we had seen it all. That classic 2008 final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Andy Murray overcoming Novak Djokovic to send the title-starved Brits into sheer ecstasy in 2013.
But we had never seen a fifteen-year-old girl on the brink of defeat suddenly summon the courage to achieve the impossible.
Coco Gauff was new. She was heartwarming. She was inspirational. And at Wimbledon 2021 we will hope for more of the same.
For much of that famous Friday afternoon last year, we felt a bit sorry for young Coco.
Polona Hercog seemed to have taught her a tennis lesson in how to handle the pressure.
The Slovenian led 6-3, 5-2. It was match point. We prepared to give Gauff sympathetic applause and congratulate her on a great week anyway.
But Coco’s parents, Corey and Candi hadn’t given up. They knew what she was like deep down.
Above all, Coco hadn’t given up.
‘I always knew I could come back, I just kept playing my shots,’ she said later.
And she chose that moment to come up with a wicked backhand slice that landed on the line.
Hercog couldn’t seal the deal. Gauff clung on to take that game and hand herself a lifeline.
On the second match point, Hercog double-faulted. Gauff had her rattled and kept winning points with her never-say-die spirit.
The Centre Court crowd cheered loudly as Coco kept swiping away at the deficit. We saluted the kid’s courage.
Was the tide turning?
At the end of a marathon rally, Coco broke to stay in the fight. That unforgettable second set eventually went to a tie-break. Gauff played the biggest points best.
Up in the competitors’ box, Candi seemed to be playing every point with her.
Later Coco claimed she had never seen her mother like that before.
Then again nothing quite like this had happened before. Coco took the breaker 9-7.
Now the whole world seemed to be watching. Now it wasn’t just mum and dad willing her to win. There were millions.
In the UK alone, 5.2 million people tuned in. That may not sound like much. But it was even more than had watched Nadal, Djokovic or British favourite Andy Murray.
How lucky were those of us who were actually there? Centre Court was the only place to be on the entire sporting planet.
And Centre Court will be the centre of the sporting universe in 2021 too.
As that final set began last year, we watched to see whether the exertions of that dramatic breaker would prove to be the peak for Coco.
Would her intensity fade in the third and allow the more experienced woman to hold sway? How could a child really maintain this?
We didn’t quite know Coco, did we? Sure, there were bumps along the way. But Gauff was not about to let this dream go.
When she won that final set 7-5, she received such warm and rapturous applause that it seemed like she had won Wimbledon!
Coco even received congratulations from Michelle Obama, the former American president’s wife.
Ever since then, Gauff has had a huge following. We can’t wait to see what she can achieve now that tennis is returning.
Maybe at Wimbledon 2021 Coco really will take the title. She has the game and the power.
Anything is possible for this extraordinary teenager.
Sure, last year’s miracle had to come to an end some time. Simona Halep was playing unbelievable tennis and she beat Coco at the start of the following week.
As we all know, the tough little Romanian went on to win the Wimbledon women’s title a few days later.
You can’t fault Coco for losing to the future champion. One day soon we don’t doubt that Gauff will be champion too.
But it was that first Wimbledon Friday that will stay with us forever.
The first Friday. The day in Wimbledon’s wonderful fortnight that we should have been enjoying today. We can’t be there this year.
But we can start looking forward to Wimbledon 2021!
And we can start looking forward to the return of that brave and popular young American, Coco Gauff.