Wimbledon preview: Are Gauff and Raducanu headed for a clash?

The quiet whispers began when the Wimbledon draw dropped last Friday. They grew from whispers to a shout after World No.3 Aryna Sabalenka, who was the odds on favorite to make it through that bottom half, withdrew before the start of the tournament due to injury.

“Boy, that bottom half is wide open.”

Wimbledon 2024: Scores Draws | Order of play

One week later, it’s only fair to reassess and revise that reflexive sentiment. Because when you scan the eight women remaining in the bottom half, there sits a dominant World No.2: Coco Gauff. 

Gauff has not lost a set through her first three matches and has the air of a player primed to live up to her seeding and make a first Wimbledon final. Mixed among the eight are World No.7 Jasmine Paolini, who continues to break new ground this season. Madison Keys, one of the best grass-court players of her generation, has rolled through her matches as well. 

And then there is the true “wild card”, Emma Raducanu. Despite being under the scrutinous spotlight at her home Slam, the 21-year-old has eased through her draw to make the second week for the first time since winning the 2021 US Open. If the pattern holds, she could face Gauff in a blockbuster semifinal showdown. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Here’s how Sunday’s Round of 16 matches stack up: 

[19] Emma Navarro vs. [2] Coco Gauff

Head-to-head: Gauff leads 1-0
Third on Centre Court

It’s the battle of Olympic teammates as Gauff and Navarro lock horns for the second time this year. Their first meeting came in January on the hard courts in Auckland. Gauff won 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals en route to her successful title defense. 

Navarro is playing with the relaxed air of a player with nothing to lose. That’s understandable. This is just her second full grass-court season on the Hologic WTA Tour and she’s still learning how to adapt her solid baseline game to the surface. As has been the case for Navarro this season, she’s learning on the job quickly. 

‘Chilled-out’ Navarro bringing positive vibes to Wimbledon

“I think when I played her at the beginning of the year, I wasn’t necessarily ready for that challenge,” Navarro said after beating Bad Homburg champion Diana Shnaider in the third round. “We practiced a couple of times this year. They’ve gone differently than the match went at the beginning of the year.”

“I know I have the level inside of me that can beat a player like her. It’s maybe just a matter of doing it on a bigger stage.”

Gauff refuses to take the scenic route at Wimbledon

Gauff has been the model of efficiency through the first week. She’s lost just 10 games across three matches, though Navarro will be her first Top 50 opponent.

[Q] Lulu Sun vs. [WC] Emma Raducanu

Head-to-head: First meeting
Second on Centre Court

The biggest question mark for Raducanu on Sunday is the health of her right wrist. She was set to play mixed doubles with Andy Murray on Saturday but withdrew citing stiffness in her wrist. Raducanu underwent surgery on that limb over 12 months ago and she’s played more matches over a four-week span (9) than she has since her Slam-winning summer three years ago. 

Assuming the decision was more precautionary than problematic, the second-biggest question for Raducanu is Sun. The New Zealand qualifier comes into the match ranked ahead of Raducanu, No.123 vs. No.135, and the match will be her seventh at SW19. After qualifying for her first Wimbledon main draw — and just her second at a Slam overall — she stunned No.8 seed Zheng Qinwen in the first round and hasn’t looked back.

Get to know Lulu Sun, the first New Zealander to make Wimbledon’s second week

Sun was born in New Zealand to a Croatian mother and Chinese father and grew up in China and Switzerland. Her cosmopolitan life didn’t stop there. Sun played collegiate tennis at the University of Texas and graduated two years ago. She played under the Swiss flag until earlier this year.

“Obviously, [Emma and I] were born in different countries, our moms are Chinese,” Sun said. “There’s a lot of half-Chinese people out there in the world and also people who live abroad, not only that are half.

“I think that we’re lucky to be able to experience that. I think a lot of times we feel as though we’re not included in anything, because we’re not one person of somewhere, but I think it’s kind of special and to be able to blend in each and everywhere.”

The winner will face either Vekic or Badosa in the quarterfinals.

[7] Jasmine Paolini vs. [12] Madison Keys

Head-to-head: Keys leads 1-0
First on No.1 Court

Before the start of her grass season, Paolini said playing on the turf would often drive her to tears. In contrast, Keys would love to see the tours shorten the hard court and clay seasons to lengthen their time on grass. 

Paolini may not love the grass, but her 2024 form has been so good it hasn’t mattered. The Italian had never won a tour-level main-draw match on grass before this year. But after making her first grass-court semifinal in Eastbourne last week, she’s now into her third consecutive Round of 16 at a major. 

But is that enough to stop Keys’ high-octane power game? Like her long-time mentor Lindsay Davenport, Keys is built to win on the grass. Among active players, only Venus Williams (79.0%, 98-26) and Petra Kvitova (76.3%, 74-23) own a better match win percentage on grass than Keys (76.2%, 48-15).

The irony is, despite having won three grass titles, Wimbledon remains the only Slam at which she has yet to make the semifinals. Keys has not lost a set through the first week.

The winner will face either Gauff or Navarro in the quarterfinals.

More from Wimbledon:

Paula Badosa vs. Donna Vekic

Head-to-head: First meeting

The most surprising aspect of this fourth-round match is that these two ubiquitous tour veterans have never played. Both come into their first-time duel having won tight, emotional matches in the third round. 

Watch: Badosa’s tearful reaction to making the Round of 16

Badosa snapped Eastbourne champion Daria Kasatkina’s seven-match win streak by coming from 4-2 down in the final set to win the last four games. The win put the Spaniard into the second week of a Slam for the first time in two years and the first time since suffering a career-threatening stress fracture in her back. 

Vekic has always loved the grass season and the Croatian has built on her run to the Bad Homburg final to make her first fourth round of a Slam this year. Vekic knocked out Australian Open semifinalist Dayana Yastremska in the third round, winning 7-6(3), 6-7(1), 6-1. 

The winner will face either Sun or Raducanu for a spot in the semifinals.

 

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