Taylor Townsend’s three-set win, shocking fourth-seeded Simona Halep, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6, in their second-round matchup Thursday at the U.S. Open, was the biggest win in the 23-year-old’s career. And a joy to watch.
The qualifier, ranked 110th in the world, played old-school tennis, reminiscent of a style we haven’t seen since Martina Navratilova utilized her incredible serve and volley game on her way to winning 18 Grand Slam titles in the late ’70s and ’80s.
After dropping the first set Thursday, Townsend started charging the net, playing an aggressive serve and volley game, and turning the match around. In fact, the Chicago native won 64 points out of 97, total, at the net. Halep had few answers, especially since Townsend is a lefty and her forehand volley was red hot and blocked many down-the-line potential passing shots that Halep tried to hit.
“My heart was beating through my chest when I talked to her because I'm not that kind of person at all,” Townsend said after her win Thursday. “That's just not anything that I would do. But something inside of me was nudging me to, like, ask her. She just kicked my A-S-S in Miami, so I was, like, ‘Screw it, let's see what she felt on the other side of the net.' I know what I felt, but I was curious to see what she felt.
"She gave me some good advice. Honestly, she didn't really tell me anything I didn't know, but it was good to hear it from another player, someone I just played, played a couple of times. Especially someone who is at such a high level, has accomplished so much.
"I don't know why I did it, but I did it. It kind of stuck with me. I'm not saying that, like, everything she said I implemented into my training, but it was definitely in the back of my head to remember what she said and also remember why I asked, what drove me to ask that question, kind of that hunger and desire to get better.”
Halep admitted after her loss that she was thrown off with Townsend’s relentless attacking strategy.
“She came a lot to the net and didn't miss much,” said Halep. “It's unbelievable. Also, my return was weak because I couldn't feel the rhythm of a lefty. I don't know, was not very strong the serve, but the ball was moving too much, and I couldn't have the feeling, the touch.
"Then I think I played a little bit the wrong tactic. Maybe I should have hit more lobs when she was coming. She was very close to the net. I was not inspired at all today, but I fought. I thought when I came back that I will take it and I will win it. But sometimes it goes the other way.
"I'm a little bit upset because of the tactic and because of the way I played. But it's not a drama. She played really well.”
Halep said it’s very strange to play a serve-and-volleyer.
“Yeah, it was a little bit weird because never happens on tour, to have an opponent that is coming for actually every ball to the net. I tried to play body, I tried to play on the sides. I made also some mistakes.
"Also, I didn't go through the court that well. I was waiting behind. Sometimes I thought that she's going to hit strong, but was little bit softer. So I didn't have the rhythm. I didn't know the position on court.
"I think I have to learn from this match, and next time I'll be much better.”
Townsend shed tears after her match. It was the first time she had ever beaten a player ranked in the top 10.
“I mean, in terms of a player, I just feel like this was a huge, monumental moment," she said. "It was a very defining moment for me to realize that I belong here.”