Taylor Townsend did it the old fashioned way.
Serving and volleying, chipping and charging, Townsend scored the first top 10 victory of her career on Thursday when she ousted Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in the second round of the U.S. Open, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), with a display of tennis seldom seen in the era of baseline rallies.
The 23-year-old Townsend, who failed to win a set against the No. 4 seeded Halep in three previous matches, came to the net an astounding 106 times at Arthur Ashe Stadium, winning 60 of those points and forcing Halep to play a game with which she was not familiar.
You would have to go back to Martina Navratilova, who won the last of her four U.S. Open titles in 1987, to find a women’s player who was dedicated to serve and volley. And that’s sort of what Townsend did in forming her style of play. Navratilova was her idol.
Halep had never played someone, including Townsend, who ever came to net as much.
“I played few times against her, and I knew how she's playing. But today she changed,” Halep said. “She went for all the balls to the net. So it was a little bit different. At one point I lost the rhythm in the second set, and I didn't really know what I have to change. Even the touch, I didn't have it.”
The net has always been familiar ground to Townsend. “I’ve always came to the net,” she said. “Ever since I started playing tennis, I was always more comfortable at the net than the baseline.”
In 2012 Townsend became the No. 1 junior player in the world, having won the Australian Open junior title and the doubles title in Melbourne, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She was under the auspices of USTA coaching at the time, and the USTA had concerns about her weight and fitness and wouldn’t fund her trip to the U.S. Open. Money was raised to send her, and a sizable controversy ensued. She left the USTA and came under the tutelage of former player and coach Zina Garrison.
But junior success did not translate into professional glory. The Atlanta resident has never won a WTA tour title and her highest world ranking was 61 in mid-2018. The lefthander stands at No. 116 now and had to win three qualifying matches to get in the tournament.
“It's been, like, a really long journey,” Townsend said. “You flood with emotions of the things you've been through, positive, negative. Just to be able to, like, get over the hump, it's such an amazing feeling because, like, I mean, after Wimbledon, I was devastated after I lost to [Kiki] Bertens after having a match point. That, like, woke me up out of my sleep.”