Madison Keys and Coco Gauff are the two central characters in an office drama. They meet at the elevator. One is headed down, the other is going up.
Let’s tell these two stories — briefly — after Day 3 of Wimbledon.
We are going to write a lot more about Coco Gauff if she keeps playing this way… and it seems there are many productive years ahead for the 15-year-old, who plays well beyond her age. Gauff’s win on Wednesday at Wimbledon over former tournament semifinalist Magdalena Rybarikova was — in many ways — more impressive than her win over five-time champion Venus Williams.
Why? Several reasons quickly emerge.
One: no post-Venus letdown.
Two: totally different opponent and playing style.
Three: indoor conditions, profoundly different from round one.
Four: the margin of victory was larger.
Five: intense and constant media scrutiny after the Venus win.
All handled expertly, as well as one could possibly imagine.
Gauff is so impressive not just because she is doing what she is doing at a young age, but because her game is very sustainable. This is not a player who is playing way above her head, as though she is riding a wave of remarkable form which is going to come crashing down. This is NOT low-percentage tennis, akin to Jelena Ostapenko or Camila Giorgi when they are hitting the lines and there is nothing anyone can do.
No — this is not that.
This is better. This IS sustainable.
Coco Gauff knows when to pull the trigger and when to play with restraint. She plays with margin. She plays with delicacy and care. She generates consistent depth but doesn’t flirt with the lines too much. Everything is controlled, measured, and properly chosen.
Like Sloane Stephens at her best, Gauff has more ways to win points than her opponents do (at least through two rounds). None of this comes across as a fluke. It is percentage tennis performed well, with a serve which can take pressure off the rest of her game long enough to matter. Gauff isn’t reinventing the wheel. She is merely building a solid wheel with no structural flaws.
Then go to the player who is nine years older than Gauff, and who lost at Wimbledon on Wednesday to Polona Hercog, 2 and 4.
24-year-old Madison Keys sprayed 31 unforced errors in 18 games. She was thrown off balance by the low ball skids on grass, and by Hercog’s smart slices. She never could adjust or rein in her game.
It sounds familiar… because it is.
Wimbledon is the one major where Keys has never made the semifinals.
Karolina Pliskova has memorably struggled at Wimbledon because it is hard for her to bend down and retrieve slices and other low-bouncing shots. Pliskova is 6-foot-1. Keys is only 5-foot-10. This surface should not create such huge problems for her, given the low strike zone it creates. Yet, Keys hasn’t yet mastered grass.
The problem isn’t so much THIS loss to Hercog, but that Keys hasn’t figured out Wimbledon once. I can understand failing several times, but it’s harder to understand failing EVERY time.
Keys and Gauff could have met in the third round… and it’s the 24-year-old, not the 15-year-old, who failed to get that far.
What is the one word which separates these two players? Patience.
Isn’t that the whole of it? Gauff is willing to wait for any opening to win a point, able to construct points with an unbothered mind which accepts a wide range of possibilities. Keys, on the other hand, was openly exasperated and allowed the flow of the match to get away from her, and couldn’t find a Plan B which could change the proceedings. She got broken in three of her first four service games and could not come back.
The familiarity of the loss — and how it occurred — tells the story for Madison Keys.
The unfamiliarity of seeing a 15-year-old play with such notable patience tells the story for Coco Gauff.