Americans Coco Gauff and Amanda Anisimova have always been ahead of their time. Precocity, it turns out, is their true talent.
Three years ago, Gauff blazed into the fourth round at Wimbledon at the age of 15. Less than a month ago, she played in the final at Roland Garros.
Three years ago, the 17-year-old Anisimova reached the semifinals in Paris, defeating defending champion Simona Halep in the process, becoming the youngest player to reach that threshold in more than a decade.
They meet in a third-round match Saturday that will be bristling with youthful energy and enthusiasm and, based on the way the draw is shaping up, could launch the winner deep into this tournament. Gauff is now 18 and Anisimova 20. Of the 32 players who survived their first two matches here, China’s Zheng Qinwen and Diane Parry of France – both 19 – are the only other players in their zip code.
After he reached the third round Thursday, Rafael Nadal, the 22-time Grand Slam champion, praised Gauff’s tenacity in a press conference. He also predicted that she would win multiple Grand Slams. On his way to a record 14th French Open title this spring, Nadal encountered Gauff in a hallway, patted her on the back and said, "Good job."
Gauff, already one of the most poised players under pressure, froze.
“I remember responding so late,” she said. “He was already down the hallway, and I said, 'Thank you,' because I was so shocked he actually said that to me. Hearing that from him is pretty cool and I hope I can live up to that.”
Gauff has made steady, relatively spectacular progress considering her age. She was ranked No.875 at the end of 2018, in retrospect perhaps more of a function of the rules that limit the number of tournaments for those players aged 14-17. That fourth-round run at Wimbledon, her first major draw, helped push her ranking to No.68 at the end of 2019. The pre-pandemic 2020 Australian Open featured another fourth-round berth – and victories over Venus Williams and defending champion Naomi Osaka. Her ranking at year’s end was No.48. In 2021, she broke into the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, followed that up with another fourth-round at Wimbledon and finished at No.22.
After her French Open final and a trip to the semifinals in Berlin, Gauff’s singles (No.12) and doubles (No.5) rankings are at career highs. She’s won 25 of 37 singles matches this year.
Anisimova has followed a less conventional path. She was ranked No.21 in October of 2019 – four spots above her current position. In between, there were some significant hurdles. Perhaps the greatest was coming to terms with the death of her father, Konstantin, her longtime coach. And then there was a bout with COVID-19, which cost her the 2021 Australian summer swing.
It’s all come together this year. After that signature semifinal in Paris three years ago, Anisimova failed to get past the third round of the next seven majors. This year, she’s already reached the fourth round of the first two – and counting. When the No.20-seeded Anisimova bested fellow American Lauren Davis 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the second round, it was her 27th match win of the season, against only nine losses. That’s a winning percentage of .750, fourth-best among Hologic WTA Tour players, behind only Iga Swiatek (.935), Ons Jabeur (.780) and Simona Halep (.778).
No.11-seeded Gauff, meanwhile, was a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Mihaela Buzarnescu in a late match on Centre Court. The two have met only once, in the quarterfinals of last year’s event in Parma, Italy; Gauff, on her way to a second career title, was a 6-3, 6-3 winner.
No.1 Iga Swiatek vs. Alize Cornet
For the record, Swiatek did not record a mind-melting 18th 6-0 set for the season in her 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over lucky loser Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove. She had to settle for a 37th consecutive victory – matching the WTA’s best run since 1990, a wonderful Martina Hingis flurry in 1997.
And yet, the living, breathing surface still poses some issues for the reigning Roland Garros champion.
“On grass I feel like everything changes,” Swiatek told reporters afterward. “You have to adjust the movement. I mean, for sure I really like how I move on court, especially when I can slide, when I can recover quickly. Here I can’t really slide. I have to slow down before hitting the ball, so it’s tricky.”
Cornet – playing in her record-equaling 62nd consecutive Grand Slam event – was a 6-3, 6-3 winner over Claire Liu. These two have never played.
No.4 Paula Badosa vs. No.25 Petra Kvitova
These two practiced two weeks ago on the grass before the Eastbourne event.
“Pretty aggressive from both sides,” Kvitova said. “That’s what I'm going to for sure be ready for. Big serves, great returns. She tries to play aggressively. But I think still that she likes more hard court and clay than the grass. Hopefully that could be my advantage a little bit.”
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, has an advantage over most players at the All England Club – even the No.4-ranked player in the world. Kvitova went on to win in Eastbourne, for the fifth grass-court title of her career. On Thursday, Kvitova was a 6-1, 7-6 (5) winner over Ann Bogdan, while Badosa defeated Irina Bara 6-3, 6-2.
“She’s with confidence, but I think I have the game that I could do a tough match against her,” Badosa said. “Of course I think I will have my opportunities there. Yeah, let’s see.”
Katie Boulter vs. Harmony Tan
Take a bow (maybe two or three) if you called this one.
It seemed to be a reasonable scenario that seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams would face off against 2021 Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova in a third-round match. Instead, we have the only matchup in the top half of the draw between unseeded players.
Boulter, a British wild card ranked No.118, upset No.6 Pliskova, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second round. No.115 Tan was a routine 6-3, 6-4 winner over No.32 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo. How close is this one? They are separated by only 18 points in the rankings.
This was Boulter’s second win over Pliskova (the first and second against a Top 10 player in her career) in two weeks. The 25-year-old is into the third round of a major for the first time.
Tan memorably upset Serena Williams, playing her first match in a year’s time, in the first round.
“Katie, she’s a really good player on grass court,” Tan said. “There will be maybe some public [support] for her, but I’m prepared for that, because when I play Serena, there is a lot of public for her also. And on the big court, yeah, I will be ready.”
Other notable matches:
- No.8 Jessica Pegula vs. Petra Martic
- No.13 Barbora Krejcikova vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
- No.16 Simona Halep vs. Magdalena Frech
- No.17 Elena Rybakina vs. Zheng Qinwen