London: Cori Gauff, the 15-year-old schoolgirl who stunned five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round, continued her Wimbledon dream debut on Wednesday when she eased into the last 32 and claimed: “I can beat anyone.”
Gauff, ranked 313 in the world, defeated 2017 semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-3 in the first match played entirely under the new Court One roof.
She is the youngest player to make the third round since US compatriot Jennifer Capriati went all the way to the semi-finals in 1991. “I think I can beat anyone. If I don’t think I can win the match then I won’t even step on the court,” she said.
Her confidence is justified. She has yet to drop a set at the tournament having played five matches, including three in qualifying. In her two matches in the main draw, she has been broken just once and committed a meagre 18 unforced errors.
Despite that, Gauff insists she is staying grounded in the face of her sudden fame.
She is unwinding by watching YouTube videos of make-up tips while giggling along to online pranks. Her phone is busy with goodwill messages. “One is (14-year-old actress) Navia Robinson. My little brother actually watches one of the shows she’s on. Storm Reid, another actor, she’s in a new series ‘Euphoria’,” she explained to a generally mystified press corps.
“Surprisingly social media relaxes me before the match. That’s what I do. Not really Instagram so much. I just watch YouTube videos before my match. It gets me in a laughing spirit.” Despite her nods to everyday teenage past-times, Gauff insists she has a serious streak.
During qualifying, where she played on a wildcard, she needed to complete a high school science exam. It’s all part of her strong work ethic instilled in her by parents Corey and Candi Gauff, both successful college athletes. “They just told me, You have another match. The tournament’s not over. Don’t focus too much on what happened. My goal is to win it,” she said.
Practice is also key, even if it means driving herself harder and harder on the courts. “These last couple weeks, when they say, practice over, I say let’s do one more. Hit the ball harder to me. I was telling my training partner Courtney, I need you to hit the ball harder, we need to do more rounds. I didn’t know this would happen. Looking back on these few weeks, I can see how maybe that little extra time definitely helped.” Next up for Gauff is a last 32 clash against world number 60 Polona Hercog of Slovenia on Friday.