Taylor Townsend brought out an old-school style of tennis inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday. The American qualifier, who had never beaten a player inside the Top 10, served and volleyed her way to a 2-6, 6-3. 7-6(4) victory over Wimbledon champion and fourth-seeded Simona Halep to reach the US Open third round.
“I feel like a lot of the times when I was playing her, I played not to lose. A player like that, she’s just way too solid, has had so much experience, that’s not going to fly,” said Townsend. “I was just like, ‘what do you have to lose?’ I’m just going to go for it, I’m going to do what I do best where I’m the most comfortable, which is at the net.
I won a lot of points. I lost points; I lost big points. But I was rewarded in the end. That’s what was most satisfying.”
With nothing to lose, Townsend played fearless tennis to upend Halep, owner of two Grand Slam titles. After the two traded sets, it was Townsend who struck first in the deciding third set and broke for a 3-2 lead. She would maintain her advantage till 5-4 when she had an opportunity to serve for the match, setting up multiple match points at 40-15.
But Halep would not go quietly, taking advantage of some nerves from Townsend to break back and force the match into a deciding tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker, Townsend did not stray from her tactics, continuing to charge the net at every chance she had. It worked, as she outdueled Halep in the breaker and secured the biggest win of her career.
“I’ve always came to the net. Ever since I started playing tennis, I was always more comfortable at the net than the baseline,” said Townsend. “You have strengths, but you have to be solid from a certain point because these players are just too good. The level only gets higher. I think it was really great confirmation that this style of play works, that I can continue to do it.”
In all, Townsend came to net a remarkable 105 times and won 63 of those points. It was a strategy rarely seen in today’s game, and over the course of the match it proved to be the right formula to upset Halep.
“I played a few times against her, and I knew how she’s playing. But today she changed. She went for all the balls to the net. So it was a little bit different,” said Halep. “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.”
Townsend moves on to face another Romanian in the third-round, Sorana Cirstea, who defeated Aliona Bolsova of Spain 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org