Barty, Pliskova, Gauff exit Wimbledon as Serena coasts through

Australian still retains her world No 1 spot after closest competitor loses by an inch

By AFP

LONDON • World No 1 Ashleigh Barty’s hopes of becoming the first Australian women’s champion in nearly four decades were dashed on Monday, opening the way for Serena Williams to potentially equal the all-time Grand Slam haul.

At the opposite end of the age scale to 37-year-old Williams, 15-year-old Coco Gauff could not summon up yet another magical performance as the crowd-pleasing American went down 6-3, 6-3, to battle-hardened Romanian Simona Halep.

Williams gestures after a point against Navarro

Having looked assured last week, while Williams was not altogether convincing, it was 23-year-old Australian Barty who cracked and went down in three sets to unseeded American Alison Riske 3-6, 6-2, 6-2.

There was one consolation for Barty, as Karolina Pliskova could have taken her No 1 spot but the Czech third seed went out as well in a marathon duel beaten by compatriot Karolina Muchova 4-6, 7-5, 13-11.

Williams, bidding for a 24th Grand Slam title to tie with Australian Margaret Court, will play Riske next after trouncing Carla Suzarez Navarro 6-2, 6-2.

“It is a tough one to swallow, but I lost to a better player,” said Barty, who had been hoping to become the first Australian champion since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won her second title in 1980.

For Riske, it was perhaps an unexpected early wedding present — she gets married after Wimbledon to Stephen Amritraj, the son of former Indian Davis Cup player Anand — but extremely well-earned.

It will be the 29-year-old’s first appearance in a Grand Slam quarter-final.

“I had to play aggressive. I had to take it to Ash,” said Riske “The grass definitely brings out the best in me. Hopefully it will rub off and happen in other places too.”

The prospect of playing Williams did not have her knees knocking together in fear either: “Bring it on!”

Halep, unlike Gauff’s previous opponents, did not let a partisan crowd nor some audacious stroke-play by the American unnerve her and always had the upper hand.

Gauff did save three match points, but in the end, former world No 1 Halep had little trouble in closing out the match.

The American, though, leaves having given the women’s game a much-needed shot in the arm and announced herself as a future Grand Slam contender.