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U.S. Open

Taylor Townsend — mind over margins

Matt Zemek

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Geoff Burke -- USA TODAY Sports

Just win one more point. Conceptually, physically, spatially, the goal seems very attainable.

Win one more point. Put the ball inside the lines and out of the reach of the opponent. Force the opponent into an error or, if not that, a deficient shot which enables you to angle off a successful volley or hit a simple overhead.

Win one more point. That’s all Taylor Townsend had to do… at Wimbledon this summer. She had Kiki Bertens, a former Roland Garros semifinalist, on the ropes. Just one more point would have given Townsend her first career win over a top-10 player.

Taylor Townsend didn’t win the last point.

She might live on the other side of the tracks relative to Roger Federer, but in that moment — having match point and then not winning — Townsend was linked to the Swiss.

Townsend is trying to build her career on the challenger circuit at age 23, having played only four WTA main tour events this year, and only one (Auckland) outside of North America. (The three in North America: Indian Wells, Miami, and Charleston.) Townsend has combined ITF challengers and the majors as core parts of her schedule.

She entered this U.S. Open having not played since that loss to Bertens at Wimbledon. Though connected to Federer in the shared experience of losing a Wimbledon match after having match point, Townsend doesn’t have those 20 major titles, or 102 career titles, or any of the numerous other experiences of having closed down a huge match under pressure.

Taylor Townsend carried an enormous burden to New York. She hadn’t yet crossed the top-10-slaying threshold. She hadn’t yet pocketed the kind of win which can reshape a career and its possibilities.

Win one more point. Conceptually, it is all very simple.

In applied reality, it is all immensely difficult.

Taylor Townsend could not do much about the SECOND match point she lost on Thursday. Simona Halep unfurled a dazzling passing shot, a shot even better than the one Novak Djokovic hit on the second match point he saved against Federer at Wimbledon.

The match point Townsend could have regretted on Thursday, had she lost to Halep, would have been the first one: a double fault. Making the opponent play, and EARN a match-point save, is what top players need to do.

If an opponent’s shot is too good, as Halep’s was on match point No. 2, fine… but that first giveaway was the kind of mistake — much like a pitcher walking a bad hitter in baseball in a one-run game — which sometimes opens the door to disaster.

When Halep saved those two match points and then broke for 5-5 in the final set, no one had to say the following, because everyone was thinking it: Halep is going to win.

The outcome wasn’t guaranteed by any means. 5-5 in the final set is a coin flip no matter the circumstances. Yet, if history and career track records, and various other measures of performance, were to be used as indicators of what was likely to happen, only one woman was the probable winner.

It surely wasn’t Taylor Townsend.

Winning one more point was all Townsend needed… but when she didn’t get it, she could have lost heart, especially when Halep arrived at match point at 6-5 on Townsend’s serve.

Townsend could have allowed all her previous frustrations, the “almosts” in her recent past, to weigh her down. That process of sinking into a slight but decisive depression, much like winning one more point, was so easily attainable.

That which is bad can be just as attainable as anything which is good… and often more so.

Taylor Townsend, in that moment of distress, down match point, refused to surrender to negativity and history.

She created the new story all tennis players need to create if they want to be great.

Townsend responded to losing double match point by standing firm when Halep had flipped the script and was close to victory.

After years spent chasing this kind of moment, Taylor Townsend had finally won the kind of match which opens the door to a new vista of hope.

Does this mean her career WILL be different? Who knows? That’s not the important point right now.

What matters is that Townsend has now produced a moment in which she actually did take the final step — and win the final point — against an elite player. That she did so after saving match point and watching the match veer in the wrong direction only adds to the enormity of what she accomplished.

Townsend has not guaranteed that the next 12 weeks, or 12 months, of her career will be easier. What she has done is simply this: She has given herself convincing and concrete reason to trust herself more in the next tight scoreboard situation she faces. She has given herself a chance to lift her career.

That is all anyone can ask for.

Hope lives after a Taylor-made moment of magic at the U.S. Open.

 

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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