Two years ago, when she was 15, Wimbledon went loco for Coco and at that precise moment no one had ever heard of Emma Raducanu. That the latter has grabbed all the feverish headlines this time won’t have bothered Gauff and probably she was relieved to be making a serious bid for the title without all that hoopla and hype.
But in a thoroughly open competition for the women’s crown this year she came up against the only previous winner left standing who shut out the Centre Court cheers for Gauff, then shut down the young pretender’s game, winning 6-4, 6-4.
Afterwards the mature competitor was full of praise for the rising star, 16 years her junior: “It’s never easy against someone you’ve never played, especially someone like Coco who I think has a really nice and great future in front of her.”
In the early stages both were double-faulting and over-hitting. The blustery conditions could be blamed but there were nerves in the air as well. Aside from a recent success in her homeland, Kerber hadn’t won a tournament since her 2018 triumph here.
Victory looked like it might go to whoever could be first to nail down their serve. Five games in a row went to the receiver before Kerber, driving her forehand into the corner, held hers. Gauff immediately thought this a novel way to approach the contest and matched this effort with an ace.
But Gauff quickly found her forehand being relentlessly targeted by her opponent. It’s not as strong as the backhand and too many shots on that side got lost in the net. A keenly-anticipated match failed to catch fire in that first set and Kerber was able to take it by being merely the most efficient.
That’s a word which often damns German sporting achievement with faint praise and Kerber was to demand more in the way of superlatives for her play in the second set. The angles on her returns were exquisite; the shots struck from a crouched position, almost kneeling on the grass, were too punishing even for such as a relentless runner as Gauff.
Serving at the start of the second set, Gauff on the first point found the net again with another apologetic forehand. She needed to make her backhand the match’s dominant shot but was break-point down until managing to contrive a thumping winner - off the forehand of all things.
In the next game Gauff had a break opportunity and her gutsiness in a long rally hinted that the match could yet be turned around but she promptly surrendered her serve again. Kerber never looked back and can now divert her gaze toward today’s quarter-finals and next opponent Karolina Muchova.
Gauff will undoubtedly come again - Kerber is sure she will win here one day - but of her own chances this time she says: “I really enjoy playing on grass and Wimbledon is always special for me. Being in front of a crowd again is giving me new energy to go out and enjoy my tennis.”