WIMBLEDON, England — Cori Gauff, a 15-year-old American who grew up admiring the Williams sisters, made her Wimbledon debut on Monday by defeating one of them.
Gauff’s 6-4, 6-4 victory over the five-time singles champion Venus Williams in the first round was remarkable not just for the score line but for the manner with which Gauff managed the moment.
She was unruffled from the start in her first main-draw Grand Slam singles match, responding to the 39-year-old Williams’s baseline power with ample power of her own and maintaining a tight grip on her service games.
“She did everything well today,” Williams said. “She put the ball in the court, which was much better than I did. She served well, moved well. It was a great match for her.”
Williams managed to break Gauff’s serve only once in the 1-hour-19-minute match. That break made the score 4-4 in the second set, but Gauff, the youngest woman to qualify for the Wimbledon main draw in the Open era, responded by breaking Williams straight back.
She then served out the victory, closing it out on her fourth match point. And after shaking Williams’s hand and exchanging words with her at the net, Gauff went to her chair, squatted down, put her head against the butt of her racket, and cried.
Gauff said in a postmatch interview that at the net with Williams “I told her thank you for everything that you did. I wouldn’t be here without you. I always wanted to tell her that.”
It was a debut to remember and to savor. Gauff has long been considered one of the world’s most promising players. Coached by her father, Corey, a former basketball point guard at Georgia State University, Gauff trains regularly at Patrick Mouratoglou’s tennis academy in France.
She was the youngest United States Open junior finalist in history in 2017, losing at age 13 to Amanda Anisimova, another American tennis prodigy. Gauff won the French Open junior title in 2018 at age 14, becoming the second youngest girls champion at Roland Garros after Martina Hingis.
There are no guarantees, but the talent was evident for anyone to see on the No. 1 Court on Monday.
“I think the sky’s the limit, it really is,” Williams said of Gauff.
Though it was a match between unseeded players, it was widely considered the most intriguing match of the day. Williams is ranked No. 44 and far from the peak of her powers at this stage, but she is still a dangerous player on grass, long her favorite surface.
She reached the final here most recently in 2017, but she won two of her five singles titles at the All England Club before Gauff was born. Williams and, above all, her younger sister Serena have been Gauff’s role models as she has set her sights high.
“I want to be the greatest of all time,” Gauff told ESPN at age 12.
For now, she is just beginning and will face a player with a very different skill set in the second round: Magdalena Rybarikova, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2017.
Christopher Clarey has covered global sports for The Times and the International Herald Tribune for more than 25 years from bases in France, Spain and the United States. His specialties are tennis, soccer, the Olympic Games and sailing. @christophclarey
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