Tennis - For two and a half hours on Court Suzanne Lenglen today, American Taylor Townsend alternated between fearless 18-year-old playing breathtaking tennis and inexperienced teenager unable to close out a big win.
Townsend blasted winners for a set and a half against the French favorite and 20th seed Alize Cornet in the second round of the French Open as she went up 6-4, 4-1 against the world No. 21. Townsend then showed some nerves and opened the door slightly so ever for Cornet, who has a history of playing marathon matches.
Cornet grabbed her chance straight away and won five games in a row to level the match at a set apiece. One would have predicted that the Frenchwoman would ride the surge in confidence and the crowd support to equal her career-best showing of making the third round at her home Slam.
But it was Townsend who regrouped, refocused and rediscovered her groundstrokes in the final set as she went up 5-1 and held four matchpoints in the seventh game. With her lefty forehand, the American looked unstoppable.
Then once again, Townsend slipped a little bit and Cornet improved her game just a little bit. The held serve in a pivotal seventh game, broke the American teen and then held again to close the gap out to 4-5. But in one final twist, Townsend held her nerves when it mattered the most to close out the 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 win and move into the third round of the French Open - matching her best showing in a Grand Slam which she also achieved at the US Open in August.
Townsend has been a Grand Slam winner and a World no. 1 in the juniors but is only beginning to make her mark on the pro tour. Ranked at No. 205 in the world, she came to Paris courtesy of a Wild Card from the USTA after finishing as the top American during a three-week ITF circuit on clay last month in the US.
The USTA could not deny her this time, like they did in 2012 when they refused to send Townsend to the US Open junior event since they found her unfit, overweight. Townsend went to Flushing Meadows that year on her own expenses and reached the quarter-finals, charting her own path then on.
20 months later, Townsend still does not look like a supremely fit athlete. But she is touted to be one of the top rising teenagers in the game anyway and she has been working with former Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison. Her reward for her efforts on Wednesday is a third-round clash against the seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.
In her press conference Taylor was a river of words: "If they'd told me my tournament would last longer than the one of both Williams sisters? I would have said that that is...interesting! I am happy, but I have been preparing for these moments.
Hours in the gym, on the court, out of the court. I knew the crowd was not going to be on my side, so I tried to focus on myself rather than on the thought that an entire stadium was against me. It was an honor to play on the same court Serena and Federer have been playing before me today.
I read my Notebook which has notes from practice. The most important thing that is says is to 'keep things simple' and play my game". Also, Taylor didn't know that Serena lost on the same court she stepped on soon after, and was in visible shock when told: "Serena LOST????? WHAT!!??? I saw 6-2 6-2 and I thought, 'wow, that was fast', but I never thought she would be the one losing.
I am in shock". On a day when the Williams sisters both made their exits in Paris, American tennis welcomed a new star on its horizon.
And like she said in her post-match interview on court, the sky is the limit!! ALSO READ - Venus Williams loses in second round