Signs of turbulence swirled all around Taylor Townsend today. The American teenager's 4-1 second-set lead had dissolved and her 4-1 third-set lead was fading fast, as exuberant fans erupted in the wave while chanting support for hard-charging Alize Cornet. The French No. 1 had fought off four match points and was within a couple of points of leveling the decider as showers spit down from above.
The 18-year-old Townsend took it all in, took a deep breath, and then closed the curtain on Cornet's comeback.
In a match of wild momentum shifts and dazzling shotmaking, Townsend kept her cool in posting a dramatic 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory that spanned two hours and 28 minutes and propelled her into the third round of the French Open—in her maiden major.
On a day in which a trio of American women—reigning champion Serena Williams, former finalist Venus Williams and Varvara Lepchenko—all bit the dust, the youngest and lowest-ranked woman still standing signaled her arrival in Paris. Combining a sledgehammer forehand with sculptor's feel around net and a knack for the massive strike, the 205th-ranked Townsend cracked more than twice as many winners (43 to 18) as the No. 20 seed in earning her 12th consecutive win.
Townsend, who won 21 of 30 trips to net, set the tone for her all-court attack in the warm-up, immediately moving to net to practice volleys and overheads rather than retreating to the baseline. Then she took the match to Cornet, breaking for a 2-1 lead.
Cornet saved three break points for 3-4, then broke back. The Nice native's two-handed backhand is her best shot, but feeds directly into Townsend's lethal lefty forehand. Twenty of Townsend's winners came off that wing, a shot she can curl into the corners with heavier spin, bend into short angles or flatten down the line.
Townsend blasted a forehand drive down the line to break for 5-4, then swooped in and planted a high forehand volley down the line to seize the opening set with a firm "Come on!"
The former junior world No. 1's twisting lefty serve burrowed into Cornet's body at times and curled away at others, coaxing some shanked returns but also producing seven double faults. The wild card netted a double fault and sailed a forehand beyond the baseline as Cornet broke back for 2-4 in the second set, prompting an "Alize! Alize!" chant from French fans.
Recharged, Cornet rolled through a love hold to close to 3-4, then exploited some backhand lapses from Townsend to break for a second straight time and deadlock the set. When Cornet held for 5-4, French fans responded with a spontaneous rendition of the wave.
Working over the American's two-hander in one of the longest exchanges of the set, Cornet drew a backhand error into net to level the match, celebrating her five-game run by fist-pumping with such gusto that her blond pony-tail nearly flipped over the top of her orange visor.
Composure was a key component for Townsend, who spent changeovers studying her notes and rarely looked stressed after squandering leads. Remaining in the moment, she teed off on a short second serve, blasting a forehand return winner down the line—her 18th winner off that wing—to take a 3-0 double-break lead in the decider.
Credit Cornet for fighting until the very end. She saved four match points earning a hard-fought hold for 2-5 and began bleeding errors from the teen, winning 10 of 11 points to close to 4-5. Serving for the match again at 30-all, Townsend took a deep breath, hit a solid second serve to draw the return error for a fifth match point. When Cornet's forehand settled into the net, Townsend thrust her arms in the air in joy and pumped her right fist in excitement. She will face 14th-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro next.
Asked to assess her potential afterward, a smiling Townsend replied "The sky's the limit. [I'm taking it] one ball at a time."