NEW YORK—Opening-week Grand Slam matches haven't exactly been runway moments for Serena Williams this season. Facing former junior world No. 1 Taylor Townsend in tonight's highly-anticipated all-American clash, the reigning U.S. Open champion came out committed to making more than a fashion statement.
Williams spent the warm-up clad in a black suit-jacket before stripping it off to unveil a black-and-white leopard-print dress. That blend of formality and ferocity represented Williams' approach to the match. The world No. 1 dressed down the talented Townsend, 6-3, 6-1, in a 55-minute dissection of precision and power.
Scoring style points at the outset, Serena spent the rest of the evening dominating service points. The top seed permitted just five points on serve, hitting all corners of the box and denying the 18-year-old left-hander even a single break point in the process.
Explosive off the mark and stinging shots with purpose, Williams cracked a backhand pass down the line for double break point and took a 2-1 lead when Townsend netted a forehand. Serving with buzz-kill efficiency, Williams won 12 of the next 14 points on her serve, extending her lead to 5-3.
Serving to stay in the set, Townsend blinked, dumping a pair of double faults to face set point. Trying to match Williams' pace from the baseline, Townsend lost the shape of her kill shot, flat-lining a forehand into the net as Serena seized the opening set in 29 minutes. The world No. 103 practiced a forehand shadow swing as she walked to her courtside seat and tried to smile off the error while gazing up at coach Zina Garrison. An intensely-focused Williams barely raised her eyes from the court as she slowly paced to her chair.
At times, Townsend showed flashes of the bold shot-making that make her one of the most gifted young Americans, but she played too many patches of hit-and-miss tennis. Conversely, Williams played with the sustained presence of a woman who has won 13 of 14 matches since Wimbledon—and without the tension in her swings that has plagued her in prior Slams this season.
All-court skills, aggressive court positioning, and bold shot-making are all assets that make Townsend an exciting player, but Williams' clean-ball striking, consistent depth, and biting pace were overwhelming. Townsend can play creative combinations, but rather than mixing her spins to try and disrupt Williams' rhythm, hitting sharper angles to open the court for her forehand, or varying the height of her shots to give herself more margin, she too often tried to squeeze flat shots over the net and win with pace, which was a losing proposition against the game's premier power player.
For Townsend, this was her Flushing Meadows main-draw debut and first match against a Top 10 opponent. The top seed played a much cleaner match, doubling Townsend in winners (16 to eight) and committing just eight errors compared to her opponent's 20.
Holding at love to open the second set, Williams exploited a three-error game to break for 2-0. Townsend, who sometimes tap-danced on her hot-pink Nikes three feet inside the baseline to try and take Williams' second serve on the rise, would have been wiser to back off a bit and give herself more time on the returns. Ultimately, Williams was so sharp and commanded the center of the court with such confidence that it probably wouldn't have made much difference.
Slamming down another love hold for a 4-1 second-set lead, Williams never looked back. Serena, who received a marriage proposal shouted from an enthusiastic fan in the final game, closed with an embrace and encouraging word for Townsend in wrapping an impressive display of form and fashion.