U.S. Markets closed

Tennis-Wimbledon crowd go loco for Coco as dream continues

By Ossian Shine

By Ossian Shine

LONDON, July 5 (Reuters) - Did she win? Did she win?...

Men, women, girls and boys scanned the horizon at the All England Club on Friday evening, looking for a scoreboard to make sense of the roar rising from Centre Court.

As cheers drifted off into the air, and dusk fell on southwest London, tournament organisers added another name to the fourth round of the Wimbledon draw.

Cori Gauff -- or 'Coco' to anyone who has been paying attention.

You bet she won.

The 15-year-old American hit back from a set down, saving a match point in the process, to reach the fourth round of the world's most prestigious tennis championships.

Make no mistake, a star has been born.

Perhaps not since Bjorn Borg transcended tennis in the late 1970s, sending shudders down the spine of the Wimbledon crowd, has a player had such an impact on this oldest and most venerable of venues.

"She's amazing," grinned Stephanie, a worker at Wimbledon who had recently clocked off shift and was enjoying the end-of-day atmosphere of the tournament.

Few would disagree in the wake of Gauff's 3-6 7-6 7-5 victory over Slovenian Polona Hercog.

"It's just crazy," the Florida-based Gauff said. "Pretty surreal how life changes in a matter of seconds.


"SCREAMING MY NAME"

"The most unexpected message I received -- well, it wasn't really a message. Miss Tina Knowles, Beyonce's mom, posted me on Instagram. I was, like, screaming," she said, explaining the impact her run here has had.

"I don't know, like I hope Beyonce saw that. I hope she told her daughter about me because I would love to go to a concert."

The youngest player to qualify for Wimbledon since tennis turned professional a little over half a century ago, Gauff has captured the imagination.

She rolled her idol and five-times champion Venus Williams in the first round and has now made Wimbledon Centre Court -- one of the most hallowed patches of grass in world sport -- her own.

Surely organisers dare not cast her out to a court more befitting her ranking (313) if not her growing status?

Not bad for her first foray at a Grand Slam event.

"I remember before I played Venus... when you walk to leave the practice courts, there are people waiting," she smiled. "One little kid asked me for a picture.

"Then after the next day, after I played Venus, everybody was screaming my name."

Screams aside, Gauff is refusing to get ahead of herself, no matter how fast the roller-coaster is accelerating.

"I don't really believe in fate and destiny," she said. "I feel like you can kind of change your own world. Like sometimes fate can always not be a good thing. Sometimes fate can be a bad thing.


MORE OF THE SAME

"I try not to think of it as my destiny or whatever. I feel like if I do think about it like that, then my head's going to get big. I'm always hearing, 'You're going to do this one day, do that one day'. If I kind of relax now, then that won't happen."

Spare a thought, though, for Hercog.

Never before can a tattooed, free-hitting, loose-cannon opponent have had fewer supporters in a crowd, not even the non-conformists who might have been expected to cheer for the Slovenian.

She had covered up her elaborate full-sleeve tattoo with a Wimbledon-white arm sock, and played a refreshingly thoughtful brand of tennis, but still the entire crowd -- Slovenians excepted -- seemed firmly behind Gauff.

"It's a big thing right now, so I wasn't really expecting a lot of people to be on my side," she said sadly. "But, you know, at the end of the day I don't really care because I'm playing for myself and not for the people.

"I mean, definitely it is difficult in some big moments, but it was not something that I would say made a difference for me."

What had made a difference was mere millimetres, she said. Millimetres had cost her matchpoint, victory, a different destiny.

"I think I was playing, like, really good tennis for the two sets. I had my chances. You know, it was millimetres. It was just not meant to be today. Yeah, that's it. Not much to say after, yeah, being, like, a millimetre away from winning."

Instead Gauff advances and next faces seventh seed and former world number one Simona Halep on Monday.

"Okay," Gauff said flatly. "I watch her a lot obviously. I've never hit with her or anything or practised with her. I don't know how the ball would feel when I actually play but I'm really familiar with how she plays just from watching her a lot.

"She's a different player from all the players I played. They're all different in their own way. So every match I think is different. But I don't think because she's seeded will change me at all."

Certainly the Wimbledon crowd will be hoping for more of the same. (Reporting by Ossian Shine; Editing by Clare Fallon)