Tough task for teenage sensation’s Devonshire Park debut
Cori “Coco” Gauff, the rising star on the WTA Tour, is aiming to return to Wimbledon with her weapons finely tuned after signing up for another English grass court tournament, albeit one with a trio of former Grand Slam champions.
The US 17-year-old, who stunned the legendary Venus Williams in a 1st Round showdown on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2019, is set to play at both of the Wimbledon warm-up events in Birmingham (12-20 June) and Eastbourne (19-26 June) respectively.
After claiming her first WTA title aged just 15, Gauff captured only her second WTA crown with a spectacular clay court final success over China’s Wang Qiang at the Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma, Italy on 22 May. The victory was her 20th in 26 matches on the Tour.
The Florida-based ace added the Viking International Eastbourne at Devonshire Court to her itinerary after pledging to play the Viking Classic crown at the Edgbaston Priory Club. It will be her debut on the sunny south coast resort.
Gauff, the youngest player ranked in the top 100 by the WTA, has recently hit a rich vein of form on clay so shall be aiming to switch her winning ways to the faster surfaces, which do suit her style of play.
To score a win at Birmingham seems viable with just four players in the world’s top 30 set to compete. These comprise Belgium’s Elise Mertens (world no.15), Australian-born Brit Johanna Konta (no.20) and Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur (no.25).
However, Gauff has a much tougher task on the sunny south coast resort of Eastbourne as six of the world’s top ten players are included in the entry list, namely Aryna Sabalenka (no.4), Sofia Kenin (no.5), Elina Svitolina (no.6), Bianca Andreescu (no.7), Iga Swiatek (no.9) and Karolina Pliskova (no.10).
Belarusia’s Sabalenka finished 2018 Eastbourne runner-up to then world no.2 Caroline Wozniacki, The Danish ace snatched her second Devonshire Park title with a hard-fought 7-5 7-6(5) triumph. It was a huge disappointment for Sabalenka, just two days before Wimbledon started, as she served to win both sets and allowed her 4-1 lead in the tiebreak to slip.
American Kenin, who started hitting with tennis stars shortly after she made USA television appearances at the age of five, was crowned 2019 Australian Open champion. She saw off Spain’s Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-2 6-2 and aged 21 at the time became the youngest Australian Open champion since Russian Maria Sharapova in 2008.
Ukraine’s Svitolina reached the 2019 Wimbledon semi-finals and been ranked as high as world no.3, so she is a real force to be reckoned with on fast surfaces.
Andreescu, who stunned the tennis world by capturing the 2019 US Open, will be hoping that the grass season is an improvement on her recent clay court exploits. The Canadian withdrew from her quarter-final clash in Strasbourg because of an abdominal injury, and fell in the opening round at the French Open after being stunned in three sets to world no.85 Tamara Zidanesk of Slovenia.
Former Junior Wimbledon champion Swiatek (no.9) continues her stunning rise on the WTA Tour. The Pole became the lowest-ranked woman to win the French Open after beating Kenin in 2020 when she was world no.54. Aged just 19 at the time of her Grand Slam success, she became the youngest French Open women’s champion since Monica Seles lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in 1992.
Defending Eastbourne champion Pliskova makes up the top 10 aces, the former world no.1 has reached the quarter-finals at the past two Wimbledon events and has twice won the title at Devonshire Park. The Czech Republic star saw off the-then reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-1 6-4 in just 71 minutes to claim the 2019 Eastbourne crown.