Gauff, the ‘new’ Serena is gone; the old Serena goes on

© Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — So the new Serena has gone, departing with cheers. But the older Serena, the original, plays on. And unexpectedly in this Wimbledon, on came Alison Riske. Manic Monday, indeed.

That Cori Gauff, the 15-year-old, the ingénue, the kid from America who was embraced by England, was beaten, 6-3, 6-3, by Simona Halep may have been a disappointment for dreamers — not to mention Gauff — but it hardly was a shock.

Halep, the Romanian, was No. 1 in the rankings at the end of the last two years and winner of the 2018 French Open. At 27, she’s been a pro for a decade.

That Gauff, the Golden Child, wasn’t feeling 100 percent didn’t help her, but against Halep she was overmatched, as Friday the great Martina Navratilova told the BBC that Gauff might be.

Maybe someday Gauff, still in high school, will be the next Serena Williams. Right now, it’s the original Serena who’s a factor.

She defeated Carla Suarez Navarro, 6-2, 6-2, to advance to Tuesday’s quarterfinal, where she’ll play Riske, from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, who upset the lady currently at the top of the rankings, Ashleigh Barty, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

It was a wonderful story, the Gauff narrative, the sort that is at the essence of sports, full of unpredictability and forehands — the youngest player in the oldest tournament in tennis, the All-England Championships, a qualifier, winning once, then again, then again.

Just to reach Wimbledon’s second week is a major achievement. And while we watched, she achieved.

“Coco,” as she’s known, was the favorite of the fans, who screamed their support at Court 1, where Gauff’s match followed Serena’s match. However, emotion was no substitute for experience or shots. “Yeah.” agreed Halep, reviewing the match, “I think so.”

However Halep, joining others, said of Gauff, “She has potential to be a very good player soon ... It’s a huge thing that she’s able to play in the fourth round of Wimbledon. If she keeps this up, she will be in the top 10 soon.”

Serena, a seven-time Wimbledon champion, has been in the top 10, been at the top of the top 10, for many years, although not at the moment.

But after giving birth in 2017 and later incurring a knee injury, she is working her way back once more.

“The rust is wearing off,” said Williams. “Most of all, I feel confident that I can actually move, and I don’t have to go for winners so soon because I am not in pain. It’s like I can just play my game, hit shots and not worry about anything else.”

Riske, the quarterfinal opponent, is a onetime doubles partner for Serena. “She was very serious as was I,” said Williams. “She’s a great girl.”

Williams said she’s been getting better match after match. “I think everyone is,” she explained. “As the tournament goes on, that’s when the better players are surviving.”

Gauff didn’t survive. The memories will. It was a special, fascinating week and a half.

“It was really surprising,” said Gauff of the cheering. “You don’t usually expect this kind of support when you’re in another country, not your home country. But yeah I’m really happy — and happy people believe in me.”

What the media, the writers, the TV people, believe is that there cannot be too much of a good thing, particularly when it makes headlines. Cori — Coco — was on the front pages as well as on the back pages, the sports sections.

Asked if a few weeks ago at the close of the French Open, Gauff would have been told she would the star of Wimbledon — the toast of the town as one journalist phrased it — what would be her reaction?

”I’d be like, ‘That’s crazy,’” she said. ”I mean I lost the second round of qualifying in Paris. I’m super proud of myself. I’m excited to see what I’ll do at the U.S. Open and the next tournaments. My attitude helped. I fight for every point. I think if I keep that up, I’ll keep doing well.”

She’s already done well enough.