Wimbledon 2019: Tennis' old guard, 15-year-old Cori Gauff vs Simona Halep set to light up Manic Monday at SW19

One of the longest-standing traditions at Wimbledon, the middle Sunday, gives time not just for the grass to recover but for the tennis world to reflect. On the week gone by, and more importantly on the week to come.

It has been that kind of Wimbledon too, where while the old guard has stood tall, the biggest star to emerge has been a 15-year-old. Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are all safely through to the fourth round. So is American schoolgirl Cori 'Coco' Gauff, who is reacquainting tennis with the concept of 'teen prodigy'.

 Wimbledon 2019: Tennis old guard, 15-year-old Cori Gauff vs Simona Halep set to light up Manic Monday at SW19

Cori Gauff will take on former world No 1 Simona Halep in Wimbledon fourth round. AP

Last Sunday, the buzz at Wimbledon was about 15-year-old Gauff taking on a 39-year-old Venus Williams, her idol no less. The teenager from Florida came with a reputation, but Venus was a proven champion. The elder Williams sister had won the grasscourt Slam five times and made the finals as recently as 2017. Ahead of the match, Gauff was just excited to be sharing court with one of her heroes, "the reason she had picked up a racquet." But she left the awe in the locker room, came out and beat Williams 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 19 minutes.

According to British host broadcaster BBC, her second-round match against Magdalena Rybarikova recorded highest viewership numbers of the Championships till then. With her stock rising with every outing, Gauff was put on Centre Court for her third round contest against Polona Hercog. Her battling win 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 over the Slovakian, after being a set and 5-2 down and saving two match points, will go down as one of the best coming-of-age stories at the Championships.

On Monday, the 15-year-old will take on former world No 1 Simona Halep in a blockbuster round of 16 encounter. The counter-punching Halep is not the happiest of troopers on Wimbledon's lawns and had not been able to better a semi-final finish in 2014 yet. The Romanian has also been on a downward curve, since finally capturing the French Open last year, she hasn't made past quarter-finals and was ousted in the opening round at the 2018 US Open. It will be interesting to see if Gauff, who has showed great acumen for someone of her age, is able to out-think the experienced Halep or not.

Draw wide open

With Serena Williams struggling for rhythm at Wimbledon this year, the women's field is once again wide open. While Williams has made it to the fourth round, she hasn't exactly struck fear into the hearts of her rivals. Chasing her record-equalling 24th singles major for a year now, Williams survived a second-round scare against Slovenia's Kaja Juvan. She will next take on Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro, who has never made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in nine attempts so far.

Apart from Williams, three of the strongest contenders for the title to emerge from the first week are Petra Kvitova, recently crowned world No 1 Ashleigh Barty and world No 3 Karolina Pliskova.

2011 and 2014 champion Kvitova, who pulled out of last month's French Open with an arm injury, had returned to her happy place in search of more Grand Slam glory. Apart from a first set blip against Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic in the second round, it has been smooth sailing for the former champion. The powerful southpaw, who stands at 6'0, has a game best suited to grass and will be a massive threat in the second week. As of now, she is the biggest hurdle for the home fans.

On Manic Monday, when all the round of 16 matches will take place, Kvitova is pitted against Johanna Konta, the last Brit alive in singles competition. The Australia-born Konta has had the best summer so far, making it to the second week (semi-finals) of both the French Open and Wimbledon for the very first time in her career. If the comeback win over former US Open Sloane Stephens in the previous round is anything to go by, Konta is unlikely to roll over and accept defeat.

The ever-so-nice Barty, meanwhile, has carried on from her French Open victory, making it to the round of 16 without dropping a set. The 23-year-old from Australia, with her all-court game, has looked right at home on the grasscourts and has won two of her three matches in under an hour. She will next take on world No 55 Alison Riske, who eliminated 22nd seed Donna Vekic in the first round and 13th seed Belinda Bencic in the
third.

The week of upsets (Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki and Garbine Muguruza were some of the biggest casualties) had led to a more open bottom half of the draw. In a surprise fourth round clash, China's Shuai Zhang will take on Dayana Yastremska.

Old guard stands tall

Some of the biggest Next Gen stars faded away in the first week, again shifting the onus on the old guard of Serena Williams (in the women's field) and the Big 3 — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — in the men's draw.

Osaka, who has won two of the last three Slams, along with Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev was dumped out on the opening day of the Championships. Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov also joined the scrapheap during the week, in another disappointing outing in majors for the coming generation.

France's Ugo Humbert, 21 is the youngest man left in the field. Humbert and 23-year-old Matteo Berrettini of Italy are the only fresh faces in a round of 16 mainly made up of aging legends and journeymen.

Berrettini will take on the most decorated of the lot — Federer — in the fourth round. The big Italian is enjoying a breakthrough season and won his first grasscourt title at the Stuttgart Open last month. In the first round, Federer endured some early trouble against another big server Lloyd Harris and may have some anxious moments against Berrettini.

Despite the grass playing slower this year, Federer has brought his vintage serve and volley game to the party. The 37-year-old was in sparkling form in the third round contest against Lucas Pouille and is enjoying the chase for his 21st Grand Slam title.

Nadal and Djokovic, who started as the favourites for the title, once again look set for a long haul. While Nadal, who dropped one set during his feisty second round encounter against Kyrgios, was in devastating touch against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Saturday, Djokovic came through in four sets against Poland's Hubert Hurkacz in the third round. The match against Hurkacz was possibly just what Djokovic needed to test his level before entering the second week. He takes on Humbert, who has been impressive on his Wimbledon debut, in the fourth round while Nadal squares off against Portugal's Joao Sousa.

Honorable mention for 'Ser-Andy'

Doubles has mainly lived on the outskirts of the glamorous singles game in recent time, but Andy Murray's return has put a much-needed spotlight on it. While Murray, who had teamed up with Pierre-Hugues Herbert, fell early in the men's doubles his partnership with Serena Williams in the mixed doubles has been the talk of the town.

"I mean, best of luck to everyone else," Victoria Azarenka quipped when asked about tennis' latest power pairing.

'Ser-Andy', as they have duly been labeled, charmed the crowd during their 6-4, 6-1 win over Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi in the opening round on Saturday. Not only was it delightful to see Murray, who underwent a hip resurfacing surgery earlier in the year, return to the tennis court but also leave his Wimbledon worries behind and have fun on it.

On the Indian front, Divij Sharan is the lone survivor. Sharan, who had made it to the quarterfinals last year with New Zealand's Artem Sitak, has been doing well with Brazil's Marcelo Demoliner this time around. The duo took out French Open champions Kevin Kraweitz and Andreas Mies in straight sets in the opening round. But they have their work cut out on Monday, as they face top seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo for a place in the quarter-finals.

Updated Date: Jul 08, 2019 08:02:24 IST