NEW YORK, NY, USA - American qualifier Taylor Townsend pulled off her fourth consecutive comeback win to stun reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in three sets in the second round of the US Open.
“It's been, like, a really long journey,” Townsend told press after the victory. “You flood with emotions of the things you've been through, positive, negative.
“It's just confirmation more for myself that I'm on the right path, doing the right things. You keep your head down and keep working and you see what happens.”
Playing in her first match since Wimbledon, the No.116-ranked Townsend had to battle through three rounds of qualifying en route to her clash with Halep.
The road to the main draw was anything but easy, with Townsend having to rally from behind against Veronica Cepede Royg and Nina Stojanovic in the second and third rounds. She battled back again in her first-round clash with Kateryna Kozlova, going the distance on Court 7 to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Out on Arthur Ashe Stadium - the biggest court in tennis - Townsend once again got off to a slow start against Halep, who has scored comfortable straight-sets wins against the American in all of their previous meetings.
Townsend proved undaunted by that history and employed her all-court game to great success, finishing points at the net and frustrating Halep en route to a 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) stunner - Townsend’s first career Top 10 win.
“I've played [Halep] three other times,” Townsend explained. “It wasn't like it was any mystery going into the match. Obviously she's coming off a lot of confidence. She won Wimbledon. She's very match-tough.
“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.”
Indeed, Townsend rushed to the net a staggering 106 times during the two hour and four minute battle, winning 64 of those points in an impressive display of serve and volley tennis.
But in the first set, it was all going Halep’s way as Townsend struggled to find an inroad past the Romanian’s rock solid defense. Still, she had Halep under pressure from the start, and the No.4 seed had to save a pair of break points to hold for 1-1. She regrouped to break twice and reel off the last five games in a row to ease through the opening set 6-2.
Townsend continued to stick to her gameplan and rushed to the net at every opportunity, taking away time from her opponent with smart volleying. The American finally scored her first break against Halep to start the set with a 2-0 lead, and held her nerve to stay in front after the pair traded breaks, 3-1, and stayed on serve to take the match into a decider.
As Halep’s frustration grew, so did Townsend’s focus, and the American rushed the net once more to earn a break to love at 3-2. She fended off a trio of break back points to extend her lead, and powered ahead to match points at 5-4.
For the first time since her second-set surge, the nerves seemed to finally catch up with the qualifier, and unforced errors cost her a pair of match points. Halep fought her way back from 40-15 down, and broke Townsend to force a tiebreaker. But Townsend recouped just in time, and edged through the decider to close out the second-round stunner.
“I've always came to the net,” Townsend said. “Ever since I started playing tennis, I was always more comfortable at the net than the baseline.
“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 addition to her impressive net stats, Townsend was solid from the ground against Halep, firing 42 winners and keeping her opponent’s count contained to 23 across three sets. Townsend kept a positive differential with 39 unforced errors, to Halep’s 23.
“I played few times against her, and I knew how she's playing,” Halep told press afterward. “But today she changed. She went for all the balls to the net. So it was a little bit different.
“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.”
Into the third round of the US Open for the first time, the American will take on another Romanian in her next match after Sorana Cirstea defeated Aliona Bolsova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 earlier in the day to advance.