US tennis has new heroine

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iol spt pic Taylor Townsend may 29 Getty Images Taylor Townsend, the 18-year-old world number 205 and making her Grand Slam debut, rocked up at the Suzanne Lenglen court and held her nerve to see off French number one Alize Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Photo: Matthew Stockman

Paris - She plays the violin, dances something called the NaeNae and has ridden to the rescue of American tennis just as the shock of Serena Williams' French Open exit was still being absorbed.

Taylor Townsend, the 18-year-old world number 205 and making her Grand Slam debut, rocked up at the Suzanne Lenglen court and held her nerve to see off French number one Alize Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Suddenly the shock, back-to-back second round defeats of both defending champion Serena and sister Venus earlier Wednesday were cushioned by the ungainly teenager from Stockbridge, Georgia.

Such was the whirlwind nature of her maiden Paris party that Townsend was undoubtedly the only person inside Roland Garros who was not aware that Serena had suffered her second worst defeat at a major just hours earlier.

“Serena lost? She did? Oh. Oops. Whoa,” said Townsend in a fog of teenage incredulity.

“I thought she won. I saw 2 and 2. I was like, Oh, that was fast. Wow. Anyways... Um, wow, that was interesting.”

Townsend said she was honoured to be on the same Lenglen court which had claimed her more famous compatriot but was more concerned about having to follow Roger Federer onto the famous crushed red brick.

“I'm just happy that I was able to pull it out. That's crazy. The fact I followed Federer just freaked me out last night. I was like, That's pretty intense.”

Townsend, whose violin talents were harnessed in her school orchestra, earned her passage to Paris by winning a wildcard play-off series back home although her ability has been evident for some time.

She was Australian Open girls champion in 2012 as a 15-year-old on her way to becoming the first American in 30 years to be the world junior number one.

But it hasn't always been plain sailing for the stocky teen.

Two years ago the US Tennis Association was concerned that she was not fit enough to play in the US Open juniors, but Townsend shrugged off the worries to make the quarterfinals.

She is now coached by Zina Garrison, the 1990 Wimbledon runner-up who encouraged the teenager's bizarre, arm-twirling dance celebration in the aftermath of her win over Cornet.

“I have been saying since the beginning of the tournament, this dance from Atlanta, called the NaeNae. You guys should look it up, it's pretty cool,” she said.

“I was like if I do it, if I win, then I'm going to do a dance. Zina was up there going, Wooh, wooh. I hope I didn't look stupid.”

Townsend does not have a problem with confidence and her strength of personality shone through against Cornet where she gave up leads of 4-1 in the second set and 5-1 in the third before settling the tie on a fifth match point.

“How good am I? Well, I don't want to sound conceited, but, I mean, I'm pretty darn good, I guess,” she smiled.

She keeps the secrets of her hard work inside a dog-eared notebook which she brings out during changeovers. The contents, however, remain off-limits to the public.

“I can't give you all of my secrets. Basically they're just notes from practice. They just kind of get me back into a state of mind, keeping things simple.

“I have been doing it for so long it's kind of a habit now so if I don't read it it's weird.”

Her ability on the court has already been noticed by Wimbledon champion Andy Murray who tweeted: “How good is Taylor Townsend! #talent.”

“What's up, Andy? I love your mom,” laughed the American in response. “That's pretty cool. Maybe I'll tweet him back. Maybe I will get a whole bunch of followers.”

Sapa-AFP



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