Coco Gauff of the US plays a return to Russia's Elena Vesnina during the women's singles second round match on day four of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, Thursday July 1, 2021. AP
Coco Gauff made a winning return to the stage where she won hearts and minds as a 15-year-old in 2019 beating veteran Russian Elena Vesnina 6-4, 6-3 on Centre Court at Wimbledon on Thursday to reach the third round.
The 17-year-old American produced an assured performance against a former Wimbledon semi-finalist but who only returned to the circuit recently after a three year hiatus due to maternity leave.
Gauff is seeded 20 unlike two years ago when she arrived as a qualifier and reached the last 16 beating along the way five-time champion Venus Williams.
Her exploits sparked 'Coco Mania' as she received messages of congratulations from far and wide including from America's former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Huge roars erupted as Gauff sealed her place in the last 32 and her trademark broad grin spread across her face watched from the players box by dad Corey and mum Candy.
"It means a lot to be back on Centre Court," she told the BBC.
"It makes me the msot nervous before matches but after winning the happiest. I was super nervous coming on today."
Gauff has two singles title to her credit and achieved her best result so far at a Grand Slam in reaching the French Open quarter-finals last month.
She said that she had relished the battle with 34-year-old Vesnina, who needed physio twice in the second set on her back.
"She is a great player and really consistent and honestly today I tried to stay focused," said Gauff.
"On every point she came out swinging and hit big serves I am just glad to be able to come through today."
Gauff, though, says that she is different to the 15-year-old version that endeared herself to the Wimbledon crowd.
"It feels like I have changed and grown a lot," she said.
"Two years ago not many people knew my name at least before I beat Venus and now it (Wimbledon) feels more like home.
"I enjoyed the experience two years ago but now I come into these games much more confident."
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