Any disappointment that a 15-year-old lost to a top seed at Wimbledon is absurd on its face, but that’s just how good Coco Gauff’s tournament has been. The expectations have been warped beyond any recognizable norms.
Gauff played her first match of the qualifying rounds on June 25, as a wild card, and survived until today, six wins later, in the second week of Wimbledon. She beat Venus Williams in the very first round of the main draw, and two more tour-tested players to earn a spot across No. 7 seed Simona Halep in the round of 16.
Gauff played well in the first set, coming out to a 2-1 lead as Halep still found her bearings. Gauff serves and hits bigger than seems possible at her age; Halep is a consummate grinder who controls a match with her incredible mobility and consistency. Gauff played to her relative advantage by staying aggressive, and moving forward and parking herself at the net, where she won an impressive 13 of 17 points in the match. But after Halep recovered from a slow start, she flashed levels that Gauff cannot yet match. Halep won an incredible 52 percent of return points off Gauff’s serve, and broke serve three times to recover the first set, then two more times to comfortably take the second set, winning 6-3, 6-3.
But the fact that Halep had to dig in her bag for her trademark scrambling, on-the-run angled winners is a testament to just how well Gauff played. There is probably no other 15-year-old in the world who would make a major champion like Halep work like that.
Gauff was by far the most compelling storyline in this dreary Wimbledon where the youth movement was largely wiped out by Day 2. But until the American turns 16 next March, she can play only five more tournaments at the WTA level, due to rules—inspired by so many early flameouts—designed to preserve the well-being of young players. Her allowance will increase by two tournaments if she continues to plays well, and Gauff’s family will surely make its appeals to the tour, which might be hesitant to suppress the early career of a future star. It seems clear enough that Gauff is ready, or nearly ready, to compete at this level, week-in and week-out, against adult athletes. While some well-intentioned red tape might hinder that reality in the short term, a talent this brazenly obvious can’t be contained in the long term. There are so many more Wimbledons to come for Coco Gauff.