Two years ago, a 15-year-old American captivated the crowds at the All England Club. This fortnight, an 18-year-old British wildcard – a local heroine – has similarly thrilled Wimbledon patrons.
Saturday, they were playing simultaneously – Coco Gauff on Centre Court and Emma Raducanu on No. 1 Court – and evoking constant applause and roars of approval.
Raducanu’s first three Grand Slam matches have, against most odds, all resulted in victories. Both of Gauff’s Wimbledon main-draw appearances have seen her soar into the fourth round.
Now they’re both into the second week at Wimbledon.
“I think what Coco did here two years ago was quite spectacular,” Raducanu said in her post-match press conference. “To come out on such big courts and straightaway, straight off the bat receive all of the attention that she did following, I think she’s handled it all very, very well. So, yeah, big respect to her about that.”
Gauff was asked by reporters if she felt her career was on track.
“I feel like I’m always on time,” she said. “That’s just my life and my moment. I guess I’m on track because, I mean, this is the only way I know.”
For the past several years, 30-somethings have had a high profile, but the inevitable movement of youth seems to have occurred. Angelique Kerber, the 2018 Wimbledon champion, is the only previous winner left in the field – but she’s the only one over 30. And she plays Gauff, now all of 17.
“I don’t know how many years younger than me [Gauff is],” Kerber said, “but still I think it will be a good match.”
Stock up on the coffee or tea, take a breath and find a comfortable seat, this is going to be good. Monday’s eight intriguing round-of-16 matches beckon – the final time it will happen in a single day at a Grand Slam.
Ten of these 16 players have never been to the second week at Wimbledon.
Two of those who have been there – Gauff and Barbora Krejcikova – are playing only their second Wimbledon.
The sweet sixteen, by country: Czech Republic (3), United States (2), Australia (2), Russia, Switzerland, Poland, Tunisia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Great Britain, Spain (1).
To keep it fresh, all four round-of-16 matches in the top half are first-time encounters.
No.1 Ashleigh Barty vs. No.14 Barbora Krejcikova
This might be the most interesting of the lot.
It’s the No.1 player in the Porsche Race to Shenzhen (Barty) against No.2 (Krejcikova). How often does that happen in the fourth round?
Barty won her 31st match of the season, when she defeated Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 7-5. But, as she will tell you, there were lots of areas for improvement.
She’ll need to raise her level against Krejcikova. The reigning French Open champion handled Anastasija Sevastova 7-6(1), 3-6, 7-5. It was the 15th consecutive match-win for the 25-year-old Czech.
“Playing Ash, I know her for long time,” Krejcikova said in her post-match press conference. “I remember when she was 15, winning juniors here. I actually like to watch her, because she gives me a lot of motivation and inspiration to just work hard. I know that [in 2020] she wasn’t actually playing, she was off for a little bit, she had some problems, but then she came back.
“We can see that she deserves to be here and she deserves to be No.1, because she is just very talented and she works hard.”
Barty has been on the other side of the net against Krejcikova in doubles but never singles.
“It’s a new experience for both of us, some new challenges that for sure will force some of my best tennis,” Barty said. “I’m looking forward to that challenge. I’m looking forward to trying to figure out her game, kind of piece together the puzzle that she presents.”
Krejcikova, playing in only her fifth Grand Slam main draw in Paris, somehow managed to win seven matches.
“I had some matches where I was down a lot, and I was still able to find a way,” Krejcikova said. “With every single match like this, I actually feel that even if I tell myself, I’m tired and I cannot do this anymore, or my legs are shaking or I’m not feeling well, I can still fight and I can still win.
“All of this that is happening, like I’m just always telling myself, `OK, am I awake? Like, is this really happening?’ I can see I’m waking up every single morning, so it’s actually happening.”
Added Barty: “It’s been nice to be putting myself deeper into these tournaments at the Slams. On Monday it will be no different. Nice to be able to put myself in this position again to try to go that one step further.”
Ajla Tomljanovic vs. Emma Raducanu
Each unlikely match-win for the British teenager brings another precedent.
In beating Sorana Cirstea 6-3, 7-5, Raducanu became the youngest player from Great Britain – male or female – to reach the second week at Wimbledon in the Open era.
“I didn’t know that was an actual stat or a thing,” Radacanu said. “Yeah, it’s incredible. I’m so grateful for this wildcard. Honestly, I just wanted to make the most out of it, try to show that I earned it, try to make the most out of it. I’m really grateful for the All England Club’s support in taking a chance on me.”
She was down 1-3 to Cirstea and ran off eight straight games. Raducanu, ranked No.338, survived a 23-point game (the eighth of the second set) and converted her third match point. Consider this for context: She has now won her only two matches against Top 100 players.
Tomljanovic, ranked No.75, will be Raducanu’s third. The 28-year-old Australian defeated Jelena Ostapenko 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 and matched her best Grand Slam effort, going back to the 2014 French Open.
“Emma has been playing great,” Tomljanovic told reporters. “I haven’t seen her play much, but I saw a few highlights from the match with Sorana. She seems like a really solid baseliner, big game. How great is it to make fourth round when you’re 18 in your home Slam? It’s unbelievable.
“She will definitely have the crowd, but I think it will be my first experience on a bigger court in Wimbledon, so crowd, no crowd, I think it’s going to be so fun for me just go out there and play. Yeah, I hope we both play our best and whoever wins, wins.
Tomljanovic, who admitted she has struggled during the pandemic, is thrilled her step-by-step comeback is going so well.
“Making the fourth round here is just such a huge pat on the back to myself and the people around me that saw it,” she said. “I’m very proud of that, no matter how I go from here.”
Radacanu sounds like someone who’s starting to believe.
“The way that I’m approaching my matches is each time I’m thinking to myself, `Why not?’” she said. “Like today, I was like, ‘Someone has to be in the second week, why not me?’ I think that’s how I'm approaching it. I’m just trying to stay here as long as possible. I’m just having such a blast.”
No.19 Karolina Muchova vs No.30 Paula Badosa
Muchova continues to demonstrate an appetite for the grand stage.
Two years ago, the 24-year-old from the Czech Republic was unseeded here in her first Wimbledon main draw. She smashed her way into the quarterfinals, outlasting No.3 seed Karolina Pliskova in a 3-hour-plus match on the way. This year, after losing in the first round at Berlin, Muchova advanced to the second week by defeating French Open finalist and No.16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-3.
Did we mention that Muchova was a semifinalist at the Australian Open – beating world No.1 Barty in the quarters – back in February? Her career record at Wimbledon is a sparkling 7-1.
Big comeback for Paula Badosa, who follows up her Roland Garros QF run with a 1st Round of 16 at #Wimbledon.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) July 3, 2021
Rallies from 0-3 down in the third to defeat Magda Linetta 57 62 64.
Playing just her 2nd Wimbledon MD, faces 19th seed Karolina Muchova on Monday. pic.twitter.com/8jRJ9bzLHl
Badosa, a 23-year-old from Spain, is on a bit of a tear herself. She came back to defeat Magda Linette 5-7, 6-2, 6-4.
Ranked a career-high No.33, Badosa has won three of the four career singles matches she’s played at the All England Club.
No.20 Coco Gauff vs. No.25 Angelique Kerber
Champions display resilience under duress and Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam winner, has been the picture of perseverance this fortnight.
The 33-year-old German was trailing Aliaksandra Sasnovich 1-5 when rain stopped play Saturday. Kerber eventually dropped the first set, but wound up winning 13 of 15 games after the delay. The final was 2-6, 6-0, 6-1.
Kerber’s second-round encounter with Sorribes Tormo (3 hours, 19 minutes) is the longest women’s match at Wimbledon since 2011.
Gauff had an easier time with Kaja Juvan, coasting to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
“She played already so many good matches,” Kerber said of Gauff. “She beat top players. She’s really dangerous, especially on grass court. I see the fire on her, as well. She’s really putting all the effort she has in every single match. So I know that it will be tough match.
“She’s hitting the balls really hard. Her serve is really, really good. She’s aggressive player. She’s moving well. She’s fighting. She’s not giving up. That’s I think, yeah, how she plays the last months, how she will also win, yeah, big titles for sure in the future.”
Gauff remembers Kerber winning the 2018 Wimbledon title.
“I guess it was a win that a lot of people weren’t expecting at the time,” Gauff said. “I mean, she did it. She obviously knows what it takes to win at this level. She also had a great win last week in Germany.
“I think, to be honest, I'm just going to go out there and play free. My dad told me today I matched my result from 2019, so now should just be being able to play even freer. She’s going to make a lot of balls in the court, make a lot of good shots. She’s a great player. I’m just going to go out there and try my best, hopefully come out on top.”
No.8 Karolina Pliskova vs. Liudmila Samsonova
Pliskova knows her way around the All England Club. She’s into the fourth round here for the third consecutive time. Her record at Wimbledon is 15-9 record and 40-19 on grass overall.
The 29-year-old defeated fellow Czech Tereza Martincova 6-3, 6-3.
“You can’t really wait for some mistakes,” Pliskova said in her post-match press conference. “You need to go for it. So that’s somehow the mindset since we started this, actually all those tournaments on grass, because there you cannot really wait and run and see.
“I think sometimes it’s nice to play some slice, something a bit different. Other than that, you need to just like go for your shots, which I believe if I go for it I have a big chance to beat anybody. That’s the plan.”
It won’t be easy against Samsonova, who beat Sloane Stephens 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 in the last round. The 22-year-old Russian won two qualifying matches two weeks ago in Berlin and ran the table to the title, beating Belinda Bencic in the final.
Samsonova has now won 10 consecutive matches (all on grass) – the second-best overall streak in the draw to Barbora Krejcikova’s 15. One of two wildcards remaining, she’s ranked No.65.
No.23 Madison Keys vs. Viktorija Golubic
It’s been a struggle for Keys this year, who entered Wimbledon with a 7-8 record. But she has found her game.
Keys, 26, beat No.13 Elise Mertens 7-5, 6-3 on Friday in 75 minutes. This was her second Top 20 win of the season. She’s one win away from equaling her best effort at Wimbledon, a run to the quarterfinals in 2015.
The resurgence began two weeks ago in Berlin, when Keys beat World No.4 Aryna Sabalenka in the second round.
“I think my game is well-suited for grass,” Keys said. “Obviously in the past, not having the best of results here has been disappointing, but I think grass is one of those surfaces where, when you feel great on it, it’s amazing. If you're not 100 percent comfortable on it, things can go very quickly the wrong way.
“But I’m very happy that I was able to get a couple of matches before coming and playing at Wimbledon, so I felt a little bit more comfortable on the grass this year. I think that’s shown in my tennis.”
Golubic, like she did 12 days earlier in Eastbourne, defeated Madison Brengle, this time 6-2, 6-1 in a scant 66 minutes.
The 28-year-old from Switzerland, ranked No.66, is into uncharted territory – her first round of 16 at a major. Previously, her best was a third-round effort two years ago at Wimbledon. Heading into Wimbledon, she won four matches in Eastbourne, one of them over Belinda Bencic.
It’s been a wild season for Golubic. She’s played five ITF events – and reached the final of two WTA tournaments, in Lyon and Monterrey.
“She’s had I think a couple of really great weeks specifically on the grass,” Keys said. “So I think she’s going to be a really difficult opponent. I think at this point everyone is feeling pretty confident in their game and playing at a high level in order to get to this point. I’m going to have to just continue to try to focus on my side of the net and do what I can at the highest level.”
Head-to-head: 1-1, Keys with a 2017 win in Miami; Golubic took a 2019 Billie Jean King Cup encounter.
No.7 Iga Swiatek vs. No.21 Ons Jabeur
Jabeur’s first appearance on Centre Court came with some nerves, but ultimately, the moment never proved to be too big.
The 26-year-old Tunisian upended No.11 Garbiñe Muguruza 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 on Friday to become the first Arab woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam.
Was this the best day of her tennis life?
“It is,” she answered in an on-court interview. “I’m so, so, so happy.”
It was the 32nd match-victory of the year for Jabeur, but only the second against a Top 20 opponent. Muguruza, the 2017 Wimbledon champion, had dropped only six games in the opening two rounds.
Jabeur, displaying both power and guile, kept Muguruza off balance. For the match, she attempted 30 drop shots and won about half of them.
Earlier, Swiatek was the first woman into the second week with a 55-minute 6-1, 6-0 win against of Irina-Camelia Begu.
Since this has been happening in real time, it can be hard to appreciate Swiatek’s rapid progress, but here’s a possible comparison: Martina Hingis won the Wimbledon junior title in 1994, and three years later she was the professional champion.
What would it mean to follow Hingis’ example?
“It would be amazing,” said Swiatek, the 2018 Wimbledon junior champion. “It’s another Grand Slam, so it’s like a dream come true for any of us. Every girl that’s playing here wants to win. Yeah, it would be great winning junior title and then women’s title.
“But I’m not really thinking about it, because I don’t want to put any expectation on myself. I’m just playing step by step, match by match, and not really focusing on what’s going to happen next week.”
“About Ons, she’s tricky, because she has a great touch,” Swiatek said. “She’s using that really in a smart way on grass. She can play slices, she can play flat balls, she can play topspins. She has like a wide range of options.”
Talking about Swiatek, Jabeur also used the word tricky.
“She has a very good serve, I got to say,” Jabeur said. “When she has time with her forehand, she can be very dangerous. I’ve practiced with her a few times; we warm up together.
“It’s going to be a tough match. I know she’s very strong mentally. She doesn’t want to let go any point.”
Head-to-head: 1-0, Swiatek with a three-set win at 2019 Washington, D.C.
No.2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No.18 Elena Rybakina
It seems to be coming together for Sabalenka. Four years ago, she recorded her first match win a Wimbledon – and it stayed that way until last Monday.
Now, after taking care of Maria Camila Osorio Serrano 6-0, 6-3, Sabalenka has a chance to make some personal history. A win over Rybakina would send her into the first-career major quarterfinal.
Sabalenka is trying not to get ahead of herself.
“I just keep working, keep improving my game,” she told reporters. “Like every match, it’s a new match. You never know what’s going to happen. You just need to bring your level on the court and fight for every point. This is what I'm doing on the court.
“I’m happy with these matches, which I won, but it’s already in the past. I want to focus, stay in the moment.”
In the second round, Sabalenka was pushed to three sets by British wildcard Katie Boulter. She was steadier against Osorio Serrano, saving eight of 10 break points and displaying her signature power game. In three matches, she’s hit 96 winners, which includes 21 aces.
Rybakina, meanwhile, had an easy time with Shelby Rogers, taking it 6-1, 6-4 in 65 minutes. The 22-year-old from Kazakhstan has held serve 23 of 25 times.
Back in June, Rybakina advanced to her first-career fourth round in a major – and beat Serena Williams before losing to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. With a win, she can reach back-to-back quarters.
For what it’s worth: In three previous grass-court main draws, Rybakina has made two semifinals.
Head-to-head: 2-0, Sabalenka, with wins in the 2019 Wuhan quarterfinal and 2021 Abu Dhabi quarters – both in three sets.