By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Coco Gauff’s dream Wimbledon run came to an abrupt end on Monday when the consistency of seventh seed and former world number one Simona Halep proved a step too far for the 15-year-old American, who went down 6-3 6-3 in only 75 minutes.
After stunning Venus Williams then saving two match points en route to beating Polona Hercog last week, Gauff was suddenly the hottest ticket in town but she was always going to find it tough against Halep, last year’s French Open champion and the first top-10 opponent she had ever faced.
Bidding to become the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since fellow-15-year-old Jennifer Capriati in 1991, Gauff was by no means overawed, keeping the crowd entertained with some crashing backhands and athletic recoveries, but there were also far too many simple errors that the American was never going to get away with at this stage of the tournament.
Halep, who had given an indication of her form when dismissing the dangerous Victoria Azarenka in the last round, initially struggled, including in the third game where she sent down three successive double faults.
But Gauff was even more inconsistent, mixing up some superb shots with some pretty awful ones.
Halep then began to find her range and quickly realised that she did not need to take too many risks, keeping the ball in play, accepting that the occasional winner would whistle past her but more often winning the point via a Gauff mistake.
That was enough to take the first set and the pattern continued, with more emphasis in a quickfire second.
Gauff, who needed courtside medical treatment between the sets, started to snatch at her shots and became too loose while Halep did what she needed to as the American racked up a total of 45 unforced errors in the match.
Gauff did save two match points when serving at 5-2 down but this time it was only a temporary reprieve as Halep finished her off in the next game.
The Romanian will now face China’s Shuai Zhang in the quarter-finals and, with the bottom half of the draw looking wide open, Halep has a great chance of going on to make the final for the first time.
“I am really happy I can play in the quarter-finals again, it’s one of my favourite tournaments,” Halep said.
“I am not comparing myself with last year, that was the best because I won the French Open, but I want to win every match I play.”
Gauff, who came to the tournament via a qualifying competition wildcard and ranked 313, can also expect to be challenging in the second week again in the future, and has won a legion of new fans.
“Your journey is far from over,” tweeted tennis great Billie Jean-King. “Looking forward to watching your future successes on and off the court. #Big fan.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Ken Ferris)