The defeat brought an end to Gauff’s Wimbledon campaign but left the fast-developing teen with a valuable lesson.
“There were times I had a lot of unforced errors just strictly for the fact of trying to go for too much,” Gauff said. “I think I just need to find the medium for when the score is tight and I’m feeling the pressure. I need to find a good middle, and that’s what I need to work on.”
Gauff was the third and final American to fall on what’s known as “Manic Monday,” when all 16 women and 16 men who survived Wimbledon’s first week battle for places in the quarterfinals.
Moments before Gauff’s match on Centre Court ended, Madison Keys, 26, was upset by unseeded Viktorija Golubic, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.
And Sebastian Korda, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, pushed Russia’s Karen Khachanov to the limit before he was edged, 10-8, in the fifth set of an ordeal that lasted 3 hours 49 minutes and featured a Wimbledon-record 13 breaks of serve in the decisive set, dizzying momentum shifts and blistering shot-making by both players.
For Korda, whose father, 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda, looked on from the stands, there was no shortage of positives amid the disappointment he felt in having come so close to reaching the final eight at his first Wimbledon.
In the first five-set match of his career, he went the distance and more, fending off one match point and swapping breaks with the big-serving Khachanov until it was settled by a razor’s edge, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 10-8.
“Hopefully I can learn from the mistakes that I made today and use it for the next time I’m in the fourth round,” Korda said. “Today I played my first-ever five-set match. It was a whole new experience for me. . . . Every tournament I’m learning new things. It’s probably the best thing I could do for myself right now.”
Gauff’s second Wimbledon campaign was no less a learning experience for her, and she was frank in discussing what she did well and what she could have done better in her first match against Kerber, Wimbledon’s 2018 champion.
“I just feel like I’m close — always competitive in these matches against these top players,” said Gauff, who will play on in the doubles draw with Caty McNally. “I just need to do better on certain points. Certain moments in the match I have to notice when the momentum changes and how to react to when it changes.”
Three-time Wimbledon champion Chris Evert, who covered the match for ESPN, stressed the positives as well.
“Coco needs to focus on how far she has come and not get discouraged,” Evert said. “She has beaten top-10 players. She’s already so dangerous, and she’s still improving and gaining more experience. At this point, I think it’s a matter of time. I think she will win a Grand Slam. She’s hungry and has the skill-set and seems to deal with pressure very well.”
Britain also lost its final Wimbledon competitor Monday, when 18-year-old wild card Emma Raducanu, whose charge into the second week had captivated the nation, was forced to retire from her fourth-round match against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic with apparent breathing difficulties in the second set.
Raducanu had lost a fiercely contested first set and trailed 3-0 in the second when she called for a trainer and a medical timeout. Moments after Raducanu left the court, the chair umpire informed the crowd on Court No. 1 that she had withdrawn from the match.
Gauff hadn’t dropped a set before Monday, dispatching her first three opponents decisively and efficiently. But she hadn’t faced an opponent who relishes power quite like Kerber, the lone Wimbledon champion left in a women’s field that lost six of its top 10 seeds in the first week.
The swirling wind made it tricky for both at the outset, and the match opened with five successive service breaks.
Gauff hit some terrific winners, but she struggled throughout with her first serve, which is normally a strength.
Kerber, who delights in grass-court tennis, is a crafty ball-striker, able to redirect hard-hit balls via extreme angles with last-second flicks of her wrist. She did that on critical points to wrong-foot Gauff, who has terrific speed and retrieval skills of her own.
Down a break in each set, Gauff followed her instincts and hit bigger. But on a windy day, going for lines is tricky business. And on this day, steadiness was the better play.