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Comeback Coco: Gauff escapes at Wimbledon, extends unlikely run

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WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — It was easy to forget that Coco Gauff is still just 15 as she stood on the grass of Centre Court, pounding her chest and shouting, “Let’s go! Come on!” to celebrate a 32-stroke point that forced a third set in her match Friday evening at Wimbledon.

Up in the stands, mom rose to pump a fist and yell, “Yes!” Thousands of spectators jumped out of their seats, too, roaring.

By then, Gauff already twice had been a point from losing in the third round to Polona Hercog of Slovenia.

Most players, no matter the age, would not be able to find a path past that kind of a deficit on this imposing a stage, would not be able to handle that sort of stress and figure out a way. Gauff is, quite clearly, not most players.

That much has been established. How far can she go, both this fortnight and in the future? The tennis world is watching, waiting to learn the answers.

That Gauff, ranked 313th and facing another unseeded player, was scheduled to appear at Wimbledon’s main stadium says plenty about what a sensation the Floridian already is.

That she won this one, and how she did so — erasing a pair of match points and coming back to beat Hercog 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5 — offer some insight into what Gauff might become.

“Obviously, this moment is an incredible moment,” Gauff said. “I’m still excited I get to keep living it.”

As it is, she was the youngest player to qualify for Wimbledon in the professional era, winning three matches last week against higher-ranked women in the preliminary rounds.

Then, by upsetting five-time champion Venus Williams, who is 39, in the first round of the main event, Gauff became the youngest woman to win a match at the All England Club since 1991, when Jennifer Capriati reached the semifinals at 15.

That was followed by a win against 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova, who is 30, before getting past Hercog, 28. When a reporter wanted to know how Gauff might spend the prize money she’s already earned of about 175,000 pounds ($220,000), she replied: “I mean, I can’t buy a car, because I can’t drive.”

That made her giggle, as did some of the other things she said at her news conference through a permanent smile, including her unprompted opening line about Jayden Smith’s new album, her plea for tickets to a Beyonce concert and poking fun at her mother, Candi, for the way she waved her arms overhead when Friday’s victory was over.

“Please tell me she’s a meme,” Gauff said. “I’m so excited to go on Instagram.”

Next up: A fourth-round matchup against 2018 French Open champion and former No. 1 Simona Halep, who eliminated two-time major champ Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-1.

Other women’s contests Monday will be No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova against Karolina Muchova, No. 8 Elina Svitolina against No. 24 Petra Martic, and Dayana Yastremska against Zhang Shuai, who defeated former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-2.

The top half of the men’s draw, meanwhile, saw more in its series of upsets, leaving defending champion Novak Djokovic with what seems like little resistance in his road to the final.

The No. 1 seed got a brief test Friday before quickly righting himself and getting past Hubert Hurkacz 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4. No one else on that side of the bracket is ranked higher than 17th; that’s the spot held by Milos Raonic, who is also the only other player who ever has been to a Grand Slam final.

Those exiting Friday included last year’s runner-up, No. 4 Kevin Anderson, who was knocked off by No. 26 Guido Pella 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4). Pella beat 2017 runner-up Marin Cilic last year at Wimbledon and now will face 2016 runner-up Raonic, who beat Reilly Opelka of the U.S. 7-6 (1), 6-2, 6-1.

No. 10 Karen Khachanov, No. 11 Daniil Medvedev and No. 19 Felix Auger-Aliassime all lost.

“It’s impossible to say who is going to figure things out more than the others to do what it takes to win Slams,” Anderson said.

That could be said of Gauff, of course, but she sure is looking like someone who can go far in the coming years.

She has a big serve, dialing it up to 118 mph on Friday — only Hercog and Serena Williams have hit one faster this week — and good groundstrokes off both wings, along with some touch and guile. And what she possesses, above all, is some real calm amid a storm.

As Hercog perfectly put it: “She’s probably older in her head than the numbers show.”

Hercog, who is ranked 60th, and is now 0-4 in third-round matches at majors, used a seven-game run to grab the opening set, the first dropped by Gauff in qualifying or the main draw, and then go up 5-2 in the second.

With Gauff serving at 30-40, Hercog was a point from victory. But the teen conjured up a backhand slice winner that dropped right on the chalk — a shot she only recently added to her repertoire.

After Gauff’s aggressive style paid off there, it was Hercog who really went into a shell, playing so cautiously and making mistake after mistake. A big one came when Hercog served for the match at 5-3 and held her second match point: She double-faulted.

Eventually they headed to a tiebreaker, Gauff’s first at a tour-level event.

Yet another reminder how new all of this is for her. Her play then offered yet another reminder how capable she is of handling it all.

“We’ve been working on her poise all year,” Gauff’s father, Corey, said earlier in the week. “After that comes together, then you really can improve your game, because when you’re poised, you’re not that emotional. You can troubleshoot.”

WIMBLEDON: Scores | Men’s Draw | Women’s Draw

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Kelly Slater has an Olympic decision to make

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Surfing icon Kelly Slater is in great position to qualify for his sport’s Olympic debut in 2020, but he’s undecided about making a required event appearance this summer to stay eligible.

The top two U.S. male surfers in this season’s World Surf League final standings are in line to qualify for the Olympics.

Slater, a 47-year-old, 11-time world champion, is ranked third among Americans through six of 11 events, but the No. 2, two-time world champion John John Florence, is likely out for the rest of the season after an ACL tear.

If Slater keeps up his current pace of results, he will pass Florence’s point total by the end of the season in December.

“It appears as though I have to make a decision [on the Olympics] sooner than that,” Slater said after being eliminated from South Africa’s J-Bay Open in ninth place on Wednesday. “I’ve really got to figure out all the factors around that and make a decision in the next few weeks.”

Slater’s concern is the ISA World Surfing Games in Miyazaki, Japan, in September, an event that top Olympic hopefuls on the WSL tour are required to attend, barring illness or injury.

“I think I have to surf that event, and if I don’t, it may disqualify me,” he said (the International Surfing Association, the sport’s governing body, later confirmed it would disqualify him). “But I’m not sure if I want to go to Japan and compete right now.”

The ISA Games take place in the week between the next two WSL events, the latter hosted by Slater’s Surf Ranch wave pool in California.

“I’m not exactly sure how I feel about the Olympics right now, anyways,” said Slater, who last year said he was “50-50” on the Olympics when noting his differing thoughts on the qualification process and venue. “The point is, I’m not really focusing on it at this point. I’m trying to get myself back in the flow of the tour.”

Slater missed 13 tour stops between the 2017 and 2018 seasons after breaking a foot and having multiple surgeries.

He finished fifth, third, ninth, ninth and ninth in his five most recent events to get into Olympic qualifying position. He expected more after placing third in the two contests he entered healthy last season. Slater said he competed at J-Bay after straining his back “really bad” on Sunday, keeping him from surfing the three days before the contest.

“Ninth place, to me, used to be a pretty awful result. I’m used to at least a quarterfinal on for most of my career,” he said. “I’m not horrified by my results, but I’m also not surprised. Maybe other people are because everyone focuses on my age and that kind of thing. It’s not like I’m going to all of a sudden forget how to do this thing, you know?”

Slater, at 48, would be the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing or shooting (or art competitions!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova, via the OlyMADMen.

“Right now in my head the focus is more on this tour than it is on the Olympics, but we’ll see,” he said. “I was starting this year with a lot of pressure on myself to try and make the Olympic team and think, maybe I’ll retire there next year and that will be the end for me. It put so much pressure on the start of the year for me that I didn’t feel like I could freely compete. It was putting too many things in my head. I needed to let that take a backseat and not worry about it. I’m just not really thinking about it a lot.”

MORE: Top U.S. surfer has links to Egg McMuffin, Guinness World Record holder

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China on brink of sweeping every gold medal at diving worlds

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Shi Tingmao joined Guo Jingjing as the only women to win three straight world titles in an individual diving event, giving China 11 gold medals in 11 events with two finals left in Gwangju, South Korea.

Shi, who swept the individual and synchronized springboard titles in Rio, claimed the 3m world title on Friday by 18.25 points with 391 total. Countrywoman Wang Han took silver, 5.8 points ahead of Australian Maddison Keeney.

Americans Sarah Bacon and Brooke Schultz missed the 12-woman final, placing 14th and 29th.

China, which has dominated the sport for two decades, is looking to sweep the golds at an Olympics or worlds for the second time after winning all 10 events in 2011. This year’s feat could be more impressive, should China win the last two events Saturday — a mixed-gender springboard and the men’s platform.

That’s because three mixed-gender events were added to the world program (but not the Olympic program) since 2011. And this year, China has not only won every gold but also taken every silver in the three individual Olympic program events thus far.

China is in strong position to go one-two in the men’s platform. Yang Jian and Yang Hao were nearly 70 points clear of the field in Friday’s semifinals.

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MORE: Diving Worlds TV Schedule