Surprise! 23-year-old Townsend of US upsets Halep at US Open
NEW YORK — The pure, raw emotion from Taylor Townsend came through after she delivered one last crisp forehand volley to complete her U.S. Open upset of two-time major champion Simona Halep, then clenched her fists, raised her arms and yelled, “Yes! Yes!” before patting her heart.
And there it was again, moments later, when Townsend’s voice cracked and tears began to flow as she told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd, “I mean, this means a lot. It’s been a long journey. Just haven’t been able to get over the hump.”
Make way for another young American woman making Grand Slam waves. Townsend, a 23-year-old qualifier ranked 116th, pulled off the biggest victory of her up-and-down career with an entertaining, net-rushing, serve-and-volleying brand of lefty tennis Thursday, surprising former No. 1 Halep 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the second round at Flushing Meadows.
“It’s been a long road. A lot of haters. A lot of people who weren’t sure. I mean, I’ve heard it for a really long time that I was never going to make it, that I wasn’t going to be able to break through or do this or do that,” Townsend said. “This was a huge, monumental moment. It was a very defining moment for me to realize that I belong here.”
She was marked for greatness long ago: She was the singles and doubles junior champion at the 2012 Australian Open, turned pro later that year at age 16, then cracked the top 100 in the rankings while still a teen. But a drop out of the WTA’s top 300 followed and she came into Thursday 9-16 at Grand Slam tournaments and 0-10 against top-10 women.
Still, Townsend never let up and never gave up on herself over the years — or on Thursday, even though she knew full well she had lost all six sets the two women had contested previously.
She was able to put aside the early deficit of a set. And get over that she wasted a pair of match points, one via double-fault, while serving for the win at 5-4 in the third. And steady herself nearly 15 minutes later, when Halep, who won Wimbledon in July and was seeded No. 4 at the U.S. Open, was a single point from winning this thing herself at 6-5.
“When I’ve played her before, I was just trying to make balls (in). I think I played not to lose,” Townsend said. “And today I played to win.”
How did she do it?
By moving forward at every opportunity, something rarely seen these days on tour. She won the point on 64 of her 106 trips to the net; Halep went 6 for 10. And Townsend serve-and-volleyed 61 times, Halep once.
“Never played with someone coming so often to the net,” Halep said. “Didn’t miss much. It’s unbelievable.”
It was an attention-grabbing result on a busy day at the year’s last major tournament, with all but nine of Wednesday’s scheduled singles matches carried over because of rain. The weather was just right Thursday, and so result after result poured in, including Andrea Petkovic’s 6-4, 6-4 elimination of two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and, among the men, unseeded American Denis Kudla’s 7-5, 7-5, 0-6, 6-3 win over No. 27 Dusan Lajovic, and unseeded Briton Daniel Evans’ 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4 defeat of No. 25 Lucas Pouille.
Three-time U.S. Open champion Rafael Nadal reached the third round when his opponent, Thanasi Kokkinakis, withdrew with an injured right shoulder.
Townsend now will try to get to the fourth round at a Slam for the first time. For all that time various folks spent fretting about how U.S. women’s tennis will do once the Williams sisters move on, the group looks to be in pretty good shape at the moment.
“Honestly, that conversation doesn’t really matter to me. It’s an ever-evolving door. Any time that someone has one good result or two good results, they’re ‘The Next.’ You know what I mean?” Townsend said. “It was, like, maybe I was, maybe I wasn’t. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter, because I’m here now.”
Later Thursday, 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who grabbed a ton of attention by reaching Wimbledon’s fourth round, played for a shot to face defending champion Naomi Osaka next in New York.
Caty McNally, 17, pushed Serena Williams to three sets Wednesday. Sofia Kenin, 20, beat Williams at the French Open and is into the third round in New York. At Roland Garros, Amanda Anisimova, 17, became the first player born in the 2000s to reach a Grand Slam semifinal. And there are 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, 26, and runner-up Madison Keys, 24.
“I give all the credit to the players, because it’s a healthy competition,” said U.S. Fed Cup captain and head of women’s tennis Kathy Rinaldi. “They’re all pushing each other on and off the court. And so it’s really fun to watch. But in the meantime, I think they’re very supportive of one another as well.”
Osaka moved on earlier Thursday with a couple of famous fans in her courtside guest seats: Colin Kaepernick and Kobe Bryant.
The No. 1 seed beat Magda Linette 6-2, 6-4.
Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who three years ago began kneeling during the national anthem at his team’s games, has been working out in the New York area in hopes of getting another shot in the NFL. Bryant, the retired NBA superstar, came to the U.S. Open to promote a new book.
“It’s just funny to me,” Osaka said. “You know, like, last year compared to this year, there is no way, like, Kobe would sit in my box. Yeah, Kaepernick, too.”
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