*Flushing, NY – Day 4 at the US Open produced the stuff of dreams, at least for Taylor Townsend and Coco Gauff. They both logged huge victories, thrilling the crowds and winning hearts in the process. There was one nightmare on the day, fellow American Frances Tiafoe crashing out after a five-set battle with Alexander Zverev, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, but the magic produced by his compatriots lessened the disappointment.
Taylor Townsend took a page out of Catherine Mcnally’s (teen who pushed Serena to three sets) playbook and dismantled the game of former world no. 1 and reigning Wimbledon champion, Simona Halep. The nimble Romanian was unable to use her speed and agility to overcome the relentless serve and volley tactics of former the former juniors world no. 1.
Taylor has a unique and compelling story in that though she was at the top of the game as a junior, in 2012 she was asked to sit out of the juniors tournament and was denied a wildcard entry into the US Open main draw due to her weight. It was a pivotal decision for her career handed down by USTA leadership and since then – after splitting with the organization’s designated coaches, its been an uphill battle to both believe in herself personally and to prove her professional worth. And the impact and heaviness of it all came to a head when she took out her first top 10 player, Halep, and advanced to third round of the US Open for the first time.
“This means a lot,” she said though tears. “It’s been a long journey. I said “f” it and I played to win, not to not lose.”
Mission accomplished and on the grandest of tennis stages, inside Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open.
Townsend is currently ranked 118 in the world, so to claim a scalp as big as Halep’s – a two-time Grand Slam champion – was a major punctuation to her determination to prove that the USTA made the wrong decision those years ago. After the win she thanked her box and gave special recognition to her coach, Donald Young Sr., who was instrumental in helping her recover emotionally after the controversy and helped her build on her game:
“He’s known me for most of my life and he helped me to believe in myself again and just come out here and be who I am,” she said of his timely intervention.
Simona Halep hasn’t fared well at the US Open for the past few years. She lost in the first round in both ‘17 and ‘18, but coming off the Wimbledon win, prognosticators thought she was poised to overcome her demons in New York. But it wasn’t to be … and Townsend saw to that.
Taylor’s net charging play took the plan and the racquet right out of the frustrated Romanian’s hands, even evoking from her an extended remix racquet smash and a resulting code violation warning. It wasn’t an easy feat, downing the usually relentless defensive wonder, however. The American easily lost the first set, 2-6, and had to resort to her “book” to try and reset herself for a do-over in the second.
Upon the umpire’s call for resume of play, Taylor got back out there, stuck to her same serve and volley plan (made over 90 trips to the net), but she just executed it better this time. With that improved execution, she was able to unhinge Halep and win the set 6-3. She carried that momentum into the third and got an early break. And her sustained aggression helped her to hang on to it, creating for herself a chance to serve out the match at 5-4. The enormity of the moment beset her, though, and she double-faulted a couple of times and botched a few volleys. Halep then found another gear, saved two match points and leveled the match.
But Taylor kept her composure and put pressure on the Romanian in her next service game. She earned break points she couldn’t convert, but the message she sent in doing so paid dividends in the ensuing tiebreaker. Both players were nervous as they traded errors and mini-breaks in the breaker, but it was Taylor’s fearlessness and sticking to her plan that won her the set and the match, 2-6, 6-3, 7(7)-6(4). It was her official announcement that she’s no longer a pretender, but a full-fledged contender on the WTA tour.
Coco Gauff was also in second-round action inside on Thursday. She played inside a packed Armstrong stadium (there’s much buzz surrounding her), up against Timea Babos of Hungary. The two had never played each other before – because CoCo is only 15 and hasn’t really played anyone yet, but she played a shockingly mature, no a hell of a game on this night. It was the teen who applied the most pressure and got the first break of the match … and the second break of the match, which earned her the first set for 6-2 in just 39 minutes.
The precocious teen returned from the between-sets changeover and handily held her serve then quickly earned two breakpoints from the frustrated Hungarian. Babos was able to hold, which gave her a little more confidence. She began finding her range with her groundstrokes and she started reading the Gauff serve a little better. She finally secured the break and took the lead for 4-3. She never surrendered that break and ultimately won the set, 6-4.
It took a beat or two for the 15-year-old to gain her composure when she began the third set decider. She got herself in early trouble by going down 0-30, but she found her way and stopped the rot. They stayed on serve through break threats and otherworldly play to stave them off, but it was when CoCo was up 6-5 that she was finally able to quench the fire of her Hungarian opponent. To be in the third set, playing against the crowd favorite and serving to stay in the match would’ve unnerved the best of them … and Babos succumbed to inevitable.
Young Coco prevailed, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. She has the aesthetics and composure of Venus and the resolve and agility of Serena and “methinks” a Star is being been right before our eyes.
“I’m so proud to be American and so proud to play here in front of you, I’m just grateful,” she said of the win.
Her next opponent is the current world no. 1 and a phenom in her own right, Naomi Osaka. That will certainly be a match to see:
“Obviously she’s an amazing player,”she said of Osaka. “She’s defending champion. She’s won two slams. She’s No. 1. She’s only 21. We’re both pretty young. But I’m a little bit newer to the game. So I’m just curious to see how my game matches up against her. Obviously I want to win.”