WIMBLEDON, England — A magical run unlike any seen at Wimbledon in almost three decades continued for Cori Gauff on Friday. After saving a pair of match points, the fleet 15-year-old from Florida barged into the tournament’s second week with a stunning come-from-behind 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5 win over Polona Hercog.
The match ended after 2 hours and 46 minutes of tightrope tennis when Gauff sprinted to retrieve a short ball and forced her weary opponent to throw up a high-arcing lob. When that shot fell just long, Gauff repeatedly jumped for joy as Centre Court shook with applause.
Gauff had already become the youngest female qualifier in Wimbledon history. Now she is the youngest woman to reach the second week of a Grand Slam tournament since a 15-year-old Jennifer Capriati made it to the Wimbledon semifinals in 1991.
After losing the first set, Gauff was down by 2-5 in the second, and Hercog served for the match at 5-3. Gauff saved two match points, one with a slithering backhand slice that angled off the line. Hercog, 28 and ranked 60th in the world, lost the other match point with a nervous double-fault.
As she has for three straight matches, Gauff showed a moxie well beyond her years. She won the second set in a tense tiebreaker, which ended with a 32-shot rally. She then held on for the win after losing a service-break lead in the third set.
“I always knew that I could come back no matter what the score was,” Gauff told the BBC immediately after the match. “I’m happy that slice down the line went in. The crowd was amazing. Even when I was down match point, they were still cheering me on. I’m super thankful they believed in me.”
Even before the match was over, one of the BBC announcers proclaimed: “We Brits love our fairy tales. And this is a fairy tale!”
Gauff has become such a sensation that she was the tournament’s headliner on Friday. Schedulers placed Novak Djokovic, the defending men’s singles champion, on the No. 1 Court, while Gauff, ranked No. 313 entering the tournament, was put on Centre Court.
Her next match, on Monday, will be her toughest test. Her opponent will be seventh-seeded Simona Halep, a former world No. 1 and a French Open champion. Halep, 27, defeated Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-1, on Friday to advance to the round of 16.