In the second round of the WTA International in Auckland, wildcard Taylor Townsend took to the court to face the No. 1 seed and World No. 8 Caroline Wozniacki.
Townsend, a former Australian Open girls’ singles champion, may be a relative newcomer on the big stages of the WTA Tour, but she certainly isn’t an unknown personality, nor an opponent that Wozniacki would underestimate. In 2014, the 18-year-old American announced herself to the world when she reached the third round of Roland Garros by defeating home favourite Alize Cornet in a battle of wills, 6-4 4-6 6-4. It was her Grand Slam main draw debut.
Though she held her nerve to win that particular encounter, her nerves were certainly not helping her play during the first set under the hot sun of Auckland, which Wozniacki would win 6-1. The set was defined by typically impressive consistency at the back of the court from the Dane, who also managed an extremely solid 90% first service record. This proved too much for Townsend to handle; although she was playing aggressively she was unable to hit the number of quality shots required to stay in long points with master retriever Wozniacki, and could only muster a total of four points against Wozniacki’s serve.
Never were Townsend’s nerves more glaring than when Wozniacki offered her lobs to hit at – the American twice sent smashes hurtling beyond the baseline.
For the second set, however, Townsend seemed to shake off her demons. She began hitting formidable shots with greater accuracy and finesse, racing to a 5-2 lead. Her volleys began to fire too, a vital part of the American’s game and one that makes refreshing viewing: Townsend has good doubles credentials, winning multiple junior Grand Slams and reaching the semifinals of the US Open mixed doubles in 2014 alongside partner Donald Young. Her classic style at the net and good sense for when to move forward make her a threat if she can control the point, and during this encounter there were definite hints of the kind of quality tennis that Townsend can produce. One drop volley in particular displayed Townsend’s notable skill at the net:
Glimpses of talent such as this should excite tennis fans – she has a natural flair, and it is likely to develop even further as she plays more tour level matches.
There are some obvious areas where Townsend needs to focus her development. While her foot speed is good, her defensive play leaves a lot to be desired – she was often caught out by Wozniacki’s fantastic point construction, and found herself unable to do more than scoop the ball back into court with little control. Floating mid court slices are not enough versus the best in the world. Developing better hand skills on the stretch will help her stay in contention on the occasions she isn’t able to dominate and move to the forecourt.
Her mind clearly still needs a little work too – from her 5-2 lead in the second set, Townsend was unable to consolidate and made fatal errors on the biggest points. Never one to give up on a set, no matter the scoreline, Wozniacki clawed her way back to a straight sets victory 6-1 7-6(4). Confidence, and the ability to perform under pressure, will come with experience – something that Townsend still lacks.
For only her second match against a top ten player (her first was a straight sets loss to Serena Williams in the first round of the US Open last year) this was not an unimpressive display. Townsend’s virtues outnumber her weaknesses, and if her consistency improves over time then she’ll be a force to be reckoned with.
Watch out for the sharp-shooting American, her rise could be just around the corner.