Cori Gauff crouched beside her chair, head bowed over her racket, unable to blink back the tears any longer. She had never cried during a match before, apparently, but there are certain moments that have the power to move even the most implacable competitor.
This, by any stretch, was one of them: the 15 year-old had just completed a straight-sets dismantling of a five-time Wimbledon champion, who won two of those titles before her opponent was even born. Never mind talk of the passing of a flame. It felt, as it had throughout this ultimate display of teenage kicks, like the lighting of a fire.
Nobody on Court No 1 could quite comprehend that this was Gauff’s first Grand Slam match, or that she was the youngest player, courtesy of a shrewdly-judged Wimbledon wildcard, to qualify for the main draw. She had grown up citing the elder Williams sister, now a grande dame of the sport at 39, as her hero, but here she bulldozed her aside with the breathtaking audacity of youth. The 6-4, 6-4 scoreline, featuring only one break of Gauff’s serve, reflected the eerie efficiency with which the win was sealed. For all that Venus is falling in the tennis firmament, the star of Cori - “Coco” to her family and friends - is fast in the ascendant.
Once the initial shock had subsided, Gauff spoke with disarming verve about what her future held. “I want to be the greatest,” she said. “My dad told me that I could do this when I was eight. You just have to say things. If I had gone into this match saying, ‘Let’s see how many games I can get against her’, then I most definitely would not have won. My dream was to win, and that’s what happened. I think people limit themselves too much. I like to shoot high.”
Beneath all this precocity, there was the odd reminder that she was still just 15. One of the happiest by-products of her victory, Gauff said, was that she would multiply her Twitter following several times over. She can rest assured, in the clamour to come, that she already has some serious big-hitters in her corner. She has been signed up to Tony Godsick, Federer’s agent, since she was 13. She has even struck a deal with the same pasta company as Federer, who has extolled her virtues at every chance lately, calling it a “great story line”.
Of this, there is no longer any doubt. Godsick sat courtside on Monday night in his dark suit and shades, a few seats along from Corey Gauff, Cori’s father and still her primary coach. The comparisons between the paths pursued by Corey and by Richard Williams, dad of Venus and Serena, are striking: Cori is even training at the same Florida academy once used by the sisters.
If Venus had been looking for any harbinger of doom, she could have found it in the crows cawing on the roof of the stadium, as if choreographed by Hitchcock. Serving at 2-2 in the first set, the noise clearly distracted her, as she interrupted her ball toss and blazed a backhand wide. It was all Gauff needed for a surge in confidence, and within moments she was pulling off every trick in the book, fearlessly trading volleys and producing the most delicate drop-shot winner to consolidate her first service break.
Williams, while still capable of booming down first serves at 120mph, was struggling for answers, at one stage falling hard at the back of the court. Respectfully, Gauff popped the ball back into play, but lashed away a winner at the second time of asking. Presented with two set points, she only required one, a netted backhand by Williams signalling that a mammoth upset was on.
Only fleetingly did any anxieties surface. Up 40-0 early in the second set, for example, she gave up a double-fault that brought it back to deuce. The crowd yelled their encouragement, but with Gauff such a neophyte on this stage, it sounded more like a sympathy vote. It appeared, if only for a few seconds, that Williams, now finding the lines more readily, was turning on the power that had reduced so many adversaries to helpless waifs.
In reality, she was falling to pieces. She managed three double-faults in one game, dazzled by Gauff’s brilliance to the point where she struggled even to land a serve over the net. The atmosphere changed, from a nagging feeling that Gauff might burn herself out to a realisation that she had a mental strength belying her years. It was a fortitude matched with prodigious talent: several times there were sighs as her looping forehands looked almost certain to drift long, only to land plumb on the baseline.
Some inspired returning afforded her the crucial break for 5-4, and if there were any gulps of tension at the changeover, they did not show. True, three match points came and went, but on the fourth she came good, turning to her box in bewilderment. Williams, in what was very likely her last bow at Wimbledon, offered congratulations at the net. Should she have felt gratified, amid the pain of defeat, that she was watching her legacy in action? Hardwired to be a ruthless winner, Williams is impervious to any such thought process. She merely recognised, along with everyone else present, that Gauff would go far. Where one star took her leave, another was born.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 1 July 2019
Gauff on Williams - 'I told her thank you for everything. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her'
That was stunning. Gauff gathering her thoughts.
Honestly I don't really know how to feel. That's the first time I have ever cried after winning a match. I don't even know how to explain how I feel.
I had to tell myself to stay calm, I have never played on such a big court. I had to remind myself of the lines on the court. Everything around it might be bigger, but the lines are the same.
She just told me congratulations and to keep going and good luck. I told her thank you for everything. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her, she is so inspiring and I always wanted to tell her that, even though I met her before I didn't have the guts to tell her then.
I know my parents are super happy, my dad was jumping up every time I won a point.
I am literally living my dream right now and not many people get to say that.
Gauff wins! V.Williams 4-6, 4-6 Gauff
Here we go, then.
Gauff chasing a deep Williams shot hits wide to the right, 0-15. Williams then over-hits past the baseline returning serve, 15-15. Serve for Gauff and it's a ripper! Right into the corner curving away! 30-15. Now Williams returns into the! 40-15, two match points.
Couple more bounces, serve is good, as is the return, before Williams hammers a forehand winner into the corner. Gauff challenging... it's in. One match point left.
Second serve required, it's in down the line, Williams returns before beating Gauff by returning to the right corner! Deuce.
Advantage now to Gauff, third match point, but she slips as Williams lands a forehand winner! Deuce again. This is excruciating for mum and dad in the stands.
Better from Williams, more aggressive coming up to the net. Can she break? Long first serve, but Williams is wide after the 108mph(!) second serve. Deuce again.
Williams skies the second serve by Gauff, fourth match point. Well returned by Williams but then she hits the net! Gauff wins! The 15 year-old defies the age gap to defeat the seven-time Grand Slam champion.
V.Williams 4-6, 4-5 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Good spin variation by Gauff before nailing a forehand winner. Leading Williams in that area 16-12 so far.
Gauff takes a small slip though at the back of court, netting to make it 15-15. Tight game, now 30-30 after Venus goes long.
Sensational rally ends with Williams clipping the top of the net and the ball landing in! Game point for Williams but she finds the net, deuce.
Williams with the advantage but a Gauff mishit catches the veteran out, deuce again. Break point for Gauff after Venus at the net volleys long!
She gets it! Williams up to the net again volleys wide left. Gauff breaks, serving for the set and the match!
V.Williams* 4-6, 4-4 Gauff (denotes next server)
Huge game then, with a break leaving Gauff serving for the match.
Rare wobble for Gauff, going down 0-30, but she responds with another excellent serve. No fuss to her preparations before each serve, couple of bounces and she's ready.
But Venus has a big chance now, two break points after Gauff's lob goes long!
Late call of out on the baseline, one break point saved. Second serve for Gauff... double fault! Venus Williams breaks!
V.Williams 4-6, 3-4 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Better for Venus, the five-time champion here let us not forget, who opens up a 30-0 lead after Gauff goes long and wide down the left. And Venus eventually holds.
V.Williams* 4-6, 2-4 Gauff (denotes next server)
Worth remembering that Gauff had to qualify for Wimbledon and is ranked 273 in the world. And she's 15. This is quite something.
Quick into the lead at 30-0, before Williams doesn't catch a forehand cleanly and Gauff pounces running up to the net with a volley. 40-0.
Gauff long with a passing forehand, 40-15, before Williams finds the net again! That was convincing. New balls. Gauff two games away.
V.Williams 4-6, 2-3 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Gauff just too good in some of these rallies, coming up with an excellent passing shot there to make it 0-30. Williams then double faults! Three break points for Gauff.
Another double! Gauff breaks.
V.Williams* 4-6, 2-2 Gauff (denotes next server)
Sun just creeping into the top-left corner of Court No 1. Cracking forehand by Gauff to make it 30-15, ton of power. Backhand down the line makes it 40-15, before Williams hits long. All square in the second.
V.Williams 4-6, 2-1 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Williams turning up the power now, a blistering forehand clinching the game.
V.Williams* 4-6, 1-1 Gauff (denotes next server)
30-0 for Gauff after a fine deep forehand, followed by an ace out wide for 40-0. Williams gets a point back, then Gauff double faults, the second serve coming off the top of the net and dropping outside the box. Now a second double fault. Gauff proving she's human and the crowd realise that, ripple of applause. First deuce of the match?
Brilliant rally won by Gauff and Williams forehands into the net. And then she holds. Gauff showing plenty of guts. Wonder what was harder, this or the science test she took in the last couple of days.
V.Williams 4-6, 1-0 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Better from Williams, taking the first game of the second set.
The current unforced errors count: 14 to three. That's striking. Gauff also with 10 winners.
V.Williams* 4-6, 0-0 Gauff (denotes next server)
Gauff caught out a little bit by a Williams forehand, scrambling across and it's 0-15. Now 15-15 before one of the longest rallies of the game is ended by Gauff, up to the net with a cross-court volley. 30-15.
Super serve, 40-15. Two set points.
Takes a second to compose herself, Williams returns, Gauff's shot takes a slow bounce and Venus backhands into the net! Sensational play by the 15 year-old - first set to Gauff!
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 1 July 2019
V.Williams 4-5 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Strong response by Williams, rattling through that game to hold her serve. All eyes on Gauff though now serving for the set.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) 1 July 2019
V.Williams* 3-5 Gauff (denotes next server)
Lovely double-handed backline by Gauff to reach the left corner for 30-15. Then Venus falls down! But amazingly she's back up and able to recover to continue the rally before losing the point.
Long by Williams! Gauff now one game away from winning the first set. So much power and conviction to her play so far.
V.Williams 3-4 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Both players hitting the net, 15-15. Gauff's movement has been good at the baseline. Challenging a call of in but it's well on the line from Williams, two challenges left for Gauff, 30-15.
Curling serve down the middle from Williams just lacks a little oomph and then she's stuck at the net, flapping at a forehand volley that lands well out, 30-30.
Gauff eyeing up the double break as Williams' first serve hits the net. Good power though from Williams with a deep forehand, 40-30. She hangs on.
Cori Gauff isn’t just beating Venus Williams in the first set. The 15-year-old is controlling how almost every point is being played.
— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) 1 July 2019
V.Williams* 2-4 Gauff (denotes next server)
Gauff in total control. Williams hitting into the net to make it 40-0. Drop shot from Gauff off the backhand is a gem! That game flew by.
V.Williams 2-3 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Beautiful lob by Gauff running up to the net to play a drop shot, and after Williams then finds the net it's 0-30.
Brilliant athleticism though by Williams, a forehand volley cross court just too far for Gauff before a second point makes it 30-30.
But Gauff breaks! Williams wide going to the corner with backhand at 30-40 and the 15 year-old moves ahead. Huge moment.
V.Williams* 2-2 Gauff (denotes next server)
Longest rally so far ends with Gauff hitting a forehand into the net. Good power and depth from Williams with her groundstrokes. But then she blazes a forehand past the baseline and Gauff has a 40-15 lead. Let, returned by Williams before a brilliant backhand winner. This could go on for a while.
V.Williams 2-1 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Gauff looking for that passing winner off her backhand but goes long. 30-0 for Venus, making Gauff work between the lines.
First double fault follows, however, but Williams responds, Cauff unable to return the next two serves with Williams taking the game.
V.Williams* 1-1 Gauff (denotes next server)
Gauff is actually not the youngest women's singles player in the Open era, with that title belonging to Jennifer Capriati at 14 years, 235 days.
15-15 after Gauff, up at the net, struggled to get enough on a lob by Williams. That looks good, Gauff fixing Williams to the spot with a forehand into the corner. Ace makes it game. Gauff on the board and looks composed.
V.Williams 1-0 Gauff* (denotes next server)
Venus quickly into a 30-0 lead, after a forehand into the net by Gauff and a cross-court forehand by Venus that's too good.
Gauff responds, forcing Williams up to the net for a drop shot that she can't pull off, to make it 30-15, then 30-30.
Williams again at the net with a forehand volley for game point, which she takes with a serve down the middle.
Fans taking their seats
Interesting occasion this for Venus, so experienced here but knocked out in the third round last year by Kiki Bertens. She was however runner-up in 2017, losing out to Garbiñe Muguruza.
The players are out on court
If Gauff is feeling nervous, then you really can't tell.
Scrap that about the biggest shock of the day
Because it actually belongs to Naomi Osaka, with the world No 2 crashing out in the first round. Here's how it happened.
Vesely wins! A. Zverev knocked out
The shock of the day (so far) then as the sixth seed Alexander Zverev crashes out! Huge win for Vesely, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
Williams vs Gauff up next.
Think we all feel rather old
Venus Williams (39 years old) had already won four of her seven grand slam singles titles when Cori Gauff (15 years old) was born in 2004. They will play each other in the first round at Wimbledon on Monday #Wimbledon
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) 28 June 2019
Some more background on Gauff
From the Press Association
Playing your idols
Gauff, who is known as Coco, was inspired to play tennis because of the Williams sisters, especially Serena. Between them, Serena and Venus had won 10 grand slam singles titles before Gauff was born.
Serena has an extra connection to Gauff through her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who has worked with the teenager, and Serena said: "She's so cool. She's a great girl. I love her dad. They're just really cool people.
"It's a great moment for her and for Venus. She's playing against a player that actually reminds me of Venus. I think I might, might watch. I always get nervous watching Venus."
At 301 in the world rankings, Gauff was not ranked high enough to get into qualifying but she was given a wild card by Wimbledon five days before her first match. At the time she found out, she was shopping online for a dress for a gala.
Gauff is still at school and had to stay up late to take a science test at 11pm UK time the night before her final-round qualifier. She went on to beat Greet Minnen 6-1 6-1 in less than an hour.
Gauff has been marked out for stardom for a while and is represented by the Team 8 management company, which was set up by Roger Federer and his agent Tony Godsick.
Federer said: "I'm super happy for her. I saw the last couple of games when she qualified. Obviously everybody was waiting to see what the draw was going to be like. I think that's fascinating, that she plays Venus now.
"It's a great story. Coco is a nice girl, works really hard. I think she's obviously got a wonderful future ahead of herself."
This will be Gauff's grand-slam debut in the main draw of the women's singles but she is already used to the slam stage. She reached the showpiece of the girls' singles at the US Open in 2017 aged just 13, making her the youngest ever finalist.
At the French Open the following year she won the title just over two months after her 14th birthday. She is the first 15-year-old to compete in the main draw at Wimbledon since Laura Robson 10 years ago.
Gauff comes from a strong sporting family. She is coached by her father Corey, who played basketball at Georgia State University. Gauff's mother Candi, meanwhile, was a gymnast before competing in athletics at Florida State University. The family moved from Atlanta to Florida when Gauff was just seven to boost her tennis prospects.
Vesely closing in?
The Czech Republic player leads Zverev 4-3 in the fourth set, posing plenty of problems with his 6ft 6in frame. Vesely's best result in a Slam has actually come here at Wimbledon, reaching the fourth round in 2016 and 2018.
A hugely intriguing clash this afternoon to round off the first day of action on the new Court No 1. Cori Gauff of the United States, just 15 years old, taking on seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams.
We're still waiting for the preceding match between Jiri Vesely and the sixth seed Alexander Zverev to wrap up, with the latter currently two sets to one down and struggling.
I'll keep you updated with the outcome of that contest as we build up to Williams vs Gauff.
How did the 15-year-old sensation end up here? Here's Simon Briggs with some background.
Gauff, who turned 15 in March, was born at a time when Williams – herself a prodigy who played her first pro tournament at 14 – had already been on the circuit for ten years and won four majors. Gauff sees both Williams sisters as role models and was devastated to lose to Daria Kasatkina in Miami this year when she knew that she would have played Venus in the next round. This time, nothing but a last-minute injury can get in her way.