Coco Gauff departs as fellow American Amanda Anisimova steps up

In a battle of the young Americans the 20-year-old beats the 18-year-old Gauff; Iga Swiatek also departs

It has been a week of varying success for the younger stars of the women’s game. Britain’s 19-year-old hopeful Emma Radacanu, who won last year’s US Open, departed the draw and on Saturday 18-year-old American hope Coco Gauff, who reached the final at Roland Garros just weeks ago, fell to her compatriot Amanda Anisimova in just over two hours, 6-7(4) 6-2 6-1.

At 20-years-old Anisimova is no veteran but with Gauff the youngest ranked player in the WTA at 12 in the world and her defeat by Iga Swiatek in the French Open final a sign of what to expect, all eyes were on her progress through the week. Swiatek, the top seed, was another casualty of Saturday, falling in straight sets to 32-year-old Alize Cornet.

But after dropping the first set against Gauff on a tiebreak, it was older player who produced an eye-catching display of poise and power from the back of the court to hit her opponent out of the championship and install herself as a serious contender for the Wimbledon title.

Both young players have had their issues. Gauff received a wildcard into the qualifying draw at the 2019 Wimbledon, where she became the youngest in the tournament’s history to qualify for the main draw. There she reached the fourth round with each of her matches the most-watched through the first week of television coverage in the United States. Later that summer, still aged 15, she reached the third round of the US Open.

Prior to that Gauff had suffered from depression and had seriously questioned if tennis was the right road for her.

Anisimova was also handed the poisoned chalice of being tennis’ next big thing when, as a teenager in 2019 she raced through the French Open before being stopped by Ash Barty in the semi-finals. Anisimova has long been tipped for big things.

She was shattered by personal tragedy, when her 52-year-old father Konstantin died suddenly of a heart attack in August 2019 just days before the US Open and a week before her 18th birthday. She pulled out of her home Grand Slam that year and stayed out of the spotlight for the remainder of the 2019 season.

Her tennis suffered badly and it only this year with better physical conditioning she has been able to again show the potential that was always there.

“I think that I can play very high-quality tennis and put up a good fight against anybody,” said Anisimova. “At the end of the day it’s about the consistency and how well you do at each tournament. It’s still something that I’m working on. Just getting far into tournaments. I had a couple quarter-finals this year where I think I could have gone past it. I just try to take the experience. I’m just here for the journey so I’m building off of that.”

During the opening exchanges on Centre Court, Gauff threatened to finish the match quickly with two break points to go 4-0 up. From then on, Anisimova began to work her way back into the contest, winning the next four games to nudge 4-3 ahead and take the set to a tiebreak, Gauff winning six points in a row to take it.

But as her comfort zone grew and unforced errors fell it was Anisimova dominating the swing points from the back of the court. Gauff tried to mix it up and successfully dropped and sliced, but there was too much easy power coming back with the 20-year-old racing to 5-2 before taking the second set.

In the third set it was all Anisimova as the elder American broke service twice to lead 5-1. From there she served out the match to love, at the end clasping her head in disbelief.

“It’s kind of funny because we played a US Open junior final,” added Anisimova of playing against Gauff. “We’ve had a couple of matches. I think that we’ll be playing a lot in the future. It’s an exciting rivalry. I will always enjoy playing against her.

“I think she’s an amazing athlete and I enjoy watching her personally. I respect her a lot. In the third set honestly I was cramping in my leg, so I was trying to be more aggressive. Also the wind kind of calmed down so I was able to go for my shots more. In the first set if I was going for them, the wind would just make it go long.”

Next up for Anisimova is Harmony Tan after she breezed to victory inside an hour against Britain’s Katie Boulter.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times