Former UVA star Emma Navarro stuns No. 2, moves to Wimbledon quarters

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Only three years ago, Emma Navarro claimed the 2021 NCAA singles championship as a freshman at Virginia. Sunday evening, after stunning world No. 2 Coco Gauff, 6-4, 6-3, in Wimbledon’s Round of 16, the former Cavalier star was busy convincing herself that she belonged.

“I’m believing that this is possible as it’s happening,” the 23-year-old said after advancing to the Wimbledon quarterfinals. “I’m starting to think, ‘Why not me? Why not? Why can’t I make a quarterfinal run? Why can’t I go deep in Grand Slams?’ I think I’m coming into that belief as we speak.”

Sunday’s flawless performance had to be convincing for Navarro, who grew up in New York and Charleston, S.C. Her game had no holes as she aggressively took Gauff apart at Wimbledon’s Centre Court stage, which she described afterward as her new favorite court.

Seeded 19th in the tournament, Navarro will next face No. 7 seed Italian Jasmine Paolini, whom Navarro described as “not an easy out.”

Nor was No. 2 Gauff, who Navarro competed against before she entered college and Gauff turned pro. Neither was four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, who Navarro ousted in the second round, also at Centre Court.

“I played really aggressively,” Navarro said Sunday. “Coco’s obviously an amazing player. I have a ton of respect for her, and what she’s done at such a young age (Gauff is 20) is really amazing. I knew she wasn’t going to make it easy on me tonight. But I wanted to play aggressively and push back against her game, and I think I as able to do that.”

While Navarro put forth a near-perfect performance in reaching the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam for the first time, it was Gauff who struggled with her emotions.

She became unglued in the fourth game of the second set, continuing to make unforced errors under the pressure. During that set she kept openly exasperated with her coach Brad Gilbert, pleading with him from the court, “Tell me something,” she continued to repeat.

As television commentators Chris Evert and John McEnroe explained to viewers, there was little Gilbert could do at that moment.

“Sometimes a player has to figure that out on their own,” Evert said.

“Today, mentally there was a lot going on,” Gauff told reporters afterward. “I felt like I wanted more direction from the box. They usually give me something. I felt today that we weren’t all in sync. It’s no one’s blame except myself. I mean, I’m the player out there. I have to make decisions for myself on the court.”

Meanwhile, Navarro remained poised, rarely showing any emotion, but she couldn’t help but notice the back-and-forth between Gauff and the coaching box.

“Definitely a confidence boost,” Navarro said. “Gave me some momentum and I was able to take advantage of it.”

Only two American women are still alive in the Wimbledon tournament, and both are former UVA players, Navarro and Danielle Collins.