French twist from Taylor Townsend
PARIS -- You have never played in the main draw of a Grand Slam before this one. You are the youngest and lowest-ranked player left in the draw, and you are playing the highest-ranked French woman in front of her country's supportive fans. And, you are playing on the same court where, just hours earlier, Serena Williams was knocked out of the French Open in embarrassing fashion.
And ... you win.
So how does that feel?
"Serena lost?" Taylor Townsend said Wednesday evening. "She did? Oh. Ummm. Whoa! I thought she won. I saw [6-2, 6-2] and thought, 'That was fast.' Wow. That's interesting. ... Honestly, that's crazy. I'm shocked. But it's an honor to play on that court against a French girl in the French Open."
As you can tell, Townsend, ranked 205th, was pretty focused on her match against Alize Cornet. Which is a good sign. As was her performance in winning her second-round match when both Williams sisters lost theirs.
Townsend's performance was helped by coach Zina Garrison, who told her Tuesday night to prepare for what could be a nerve-racking experience. Because, Garrison said, "You can't imagine the pressure you're going to feel out there."
Garrison knows. She made her Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros as well, back in 1982, and she advanced all the way to the quarterfinals. So when she greeted the 18-year-old Townsend after her upset victory over Cornet, Garrison told her, "You still have a way to go to catch me, Taylor."
Well, she has time. And talent.
Showing her powerful left-handed forehand, Townsend moved Cornet around the court while taking the first set 6-4 and jumping to a 4-1 lead in the second. Cornet rallied herself and fans in the second set, though. As the Frenchwoman came back and the fans grew louder, Townsend began playing tentatively. Cornet won the second set 6-4 to stoke the crowd, which ignored the pleas for silence from the judge and began doing the wave.
"I knew the crowd was going to be against me going into the match, but I didn't know to what degree because I have never played on a stadium like that in the girl's home country," Townsend said. "But I knew for the most part that they were going to be against me. So I really just tried to focus on myself, focus on what I should be doing, trying not to really think about how every single person in that stadium, basically, is going against you and wants you to lose.
"I just really tried to focus in on what I was doing and tried to take it one ball at a time."
Rather than wilt under the pressure, Townsend fought on and took a 5-1 lead in the third set. But then Cornet came back again to make it 5-4 before Townsend closed it out to win 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.
"I was up 5-1 and she came back 5-4 and the crowd was going nuts," Townsend said. "Like I said, I was just really trying to focus on myself, focus on what I was doing to get me to that point and really just keep going at it. I mean, I was really nervous, but I'm just glad that I dealt with it well and was able to come out on top."
"She uses her lefty forehand very well, especially the cross one," Cornet said of Townsend. "She's aggressive. She takes the ball early. She's doing everything. She has a very good hand at the net. I had a lot of trouble to return her serve, because she puts a lot of spin.
"She's a good player, definitely. She didn't become No. 1 of junior for nothing."
After the win, Townsend windmilled her arm in triumph and danced a brief Nae Nae. She was almost overwhelmed during her on-court interview, saying, "I knew it was going to be a tough match ..." before bursting out with, "OH MY GOD!!!"
Asked how far she can go, Townsend said, "The sky is the limit!"
Well, her next opponent is 14th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro, so she may not quite reach the sky this week. But she was pretty high Wednesday.