American tennis phenom Coco Gauff will continue her dream run at Wimbledon after defeating No. 60-ranked Polona Hercog in three sets in the third round on Friday, 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-5, to book her spot in the round of 16.
"I always knew I could come back, no matter what the score was," Gauff, 15, told the BBC in a post-match interview. "People say Court 1 is my court; maybe Centre can be as well."
With Friday's loss Hercog, of Slovenia, failed to reach her first fourth-round appearance in a Grand Slam. She defeated another American, Madison Keys, the round prior, but experience was not enough to propel the 28-year-old Hercog into the tournament's second week.
In the first set, Gauff showed signs of nerves. She committed 14 unforced errors and hit five double faults, allowing veteran player Hercog to settle into a rhythm and ultimately run away with a 6-3 lead.
It wasn’t until the American was down 5-2 in the second set that she started to show the level of skill that saw her defeat seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and 2017 semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova in the first and second rounds.
After saving two match points, Gauff went on to break Hercog’s serve and then force a second set tiebreaker. The 15-year-old also fell behind in the tiebreaker but battled back from 5-3 down to win a 32-shot rally and level the match at one set apiece.
The third set was a role reversal of patience and errors, with Gauff building her points with clean play and Hercog making mistakes. After two hours and 45 minutes, the world No. 313 reached match point. And it only took one, as Hercog lobbed a ball that went long to seal her exit from the tournament.
Gauff dropped her racquet in apparent disbelief, jumping up and down as the 14,000 fans in the crowd leapt to their feet and cheered.
With the win, Gauff becomes the first female player to reach the Wimbledon round of 16 since Jennifer Capriatti in 1991.
"She showed grit, patience," Chris Evert, a former World No. 1 and one of ESPN’s commentators, said. "That's what champions do. When their backs are against the wall, they find a way to win."
Gauff, of Delray Beach, Fla., will next face world No. 7 seed Simona Halep, a player who defeated two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka and has finished No. 1 in the world two out of the last three years. If Gauff manages to sneak past the Romanian, she will make history as the youngest female player to reach a Wimbledon quarterfinal.
"Right now I'm not going to think about [the next round]," Gauff said. "I'm just relieved that it is over."
Gauff will take the court again on Monday when she faces Halep for the pair's first matchup.
Click here for the complete order of play, which features No.1 Ashleigh Barty, No.4 Kiki Bertens and No.9 Sloane Stephens contending for the remaining eight spots. Also on Saturday, No.2 Roger Federer, No.3 Rafael Nadal and No.8 Kei Nishikori will headline the men's matchups.