Taylor Townsend wins hearts, fills mind

Pam Shriver talks to Taylor Townsend about her success in the first week of the French Open.

PARIS -- Taylor Townsend made a big enough name for herself in the first two rounds here that even French fans -- you could tell by the accents -- were chanting "Taylor! Taylor!'' during the final set of her third-round match against Carla Suarez Navarro.

Just imagine what their reaction would have been had Townsend been winning.

"It's nice now that people are cheering my name, because they were cheering the other girl's name [the last round],'' Townsend said after losing to Navarro 6-2, 6-2. "It was nice to have that support, especially here. The people are so supportive, and I really have had a great time playing in front of them. I did realize here that I do like big stages, I like big courts, I like playing in front of a lot of people, so that's good. But I really enjoyed it. I'm really glad the people embraced me and were cheering for me today.''

Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

After leaving her mark on the clay, Taylor Townsend is shifting to her favorite surface, grass.

We shall see how many cheers she generates in her career, but the 18-year-old definitely is off to a rousing start that even prompted Andy Murray to tweet about how great she is.

This was Townsend's first Grand Slam in the main draw and she came into Roland Garros on a wild-card entry, ranked 205th in the world. She then showed she belonged on the big stage by winning twice, including a second-round upset over No. 20 Alize Cornet in front of a very partisan French crowd. Friday's match against Navarro didn't go as well, but it was still a positive learning experience.

"The first step is knowing that you belong and can play with them,'' said Kamau Murray, Townsend's Chicago-based coach. "The second step is being able to capitalize on the opportunities. That's probably too much to tackle in one week, but we have some time between now and Wimbledon to address it and how to buckle down and make the right shot.''

One such opportunity came midway through the second set. After being steamrolled in 24 minutes in the first set -- she didn't even lead within a game until the fifth game -- Townsend rallied in the second set. Leading 2-1, she had a chance to break Navarro but squandered it by returning a short shot wide. The opportunity was there, and then, like so often in life, it was quickly gone. Navarro wound up winning the game, and the next four.

"I think that that was the turning point,'' Townsend said. "And if I would have won that game, I think that would have given me a lot more momentum in the second, because I would have been serving at 3-1. Unfortunately, I missed my return, but the good thing is that I realized how big those points were. I know that next time if I get the opportunity, I know what I have to do to make the adjustment so that I can capitalize on it.''

Zina Garrison, who coaches Townsend in Washington, D.C., said: "She was going for a little too much way too soon. She needed to be a little more patient. It's hard. Kamau and I say that all the time -- if I could hit big shots like that from anywhere in the court. But to beat these girls, you have to do that. You have to be a little more stingy and just be out there.

If you want to make it to the top, there has to be something that separates you from all the people who can do the same thing.
Taylor Townsend

"But she's very talented. She has nowhere to go but up. Literally. She doesn't have any points, nothing to defend, so all she can do is go up.''

Chris Evert compared Townsend to a young Martina Navratilova. Garrison said someone else compared her to Henri Leconte. Mostly though, Garrison said, she has a retro-style game that is well-rounded and unique. She can hit big shots and she can go to the net.

"If you want to make it to the top, there has to be something that separates you from all the people who can do the same thing,'' Townsend said. "That's what makes me different. I'm embracing that, and I love it. I just have to keep working on it and honing in on that.''

Garrison said: "She's hungry. She doesn't like losing. We always tell her the champions definitely don't like losing. She'll be back ready to work in the morning.''

Garrison reached the quarterfinals when she made her Grand Slam debut at Roland Garros in 1982, so she knows what this experience is like. And she also knows that it's a different world now. Consider Sloane Stephens, who ran into some negative issues concerning her rivalry with Serena Williams after beating her in Australia last year. "It's different in the way the media is now. Twitter and all these other things that young people like to do,'' Garrison said. "It's their life, so they have to do a bit of it.''

The daughter of educators, Townsend certainly handled herself well with the media here, appearing more poised the larger the interview room and the greater the number of reporters.

"This was the most fun I've had,'' Townsend said. "I have had a really good time just embracing the moments and the pressure and everything. It's awesome. I really had a great time. And, I mean, I couldn't ask for a better first Grand Slam and a better opportunity to show the world what I can do.''

What's next? From here, Townsend will go to Birmingham, England, where she will attempt to qualify for Wimbledon. That is, if she doesn't get a wild card based on her play here.

"If I got a wild card into Wimbledon, I would pass out right now,'' Townsend said. "Honestly, that would make my day. Wow. Wimbledon is my favorite tournament, I swear, I love the grass. I just love the tournament, the atmosphere. That would mean the world to me if I got a wild card just because I just love the tournament so much. I love grass. I have done well in the juniors there.

"So I just love the atmosphere. That would, oh my god, I'll probably cry. And I'm not a crier either.''

There should be opportunity for cheers and tears in the years ahead. And as Townsend and Murray said, she will learn to take advantage of them. Asked what she learned here, Townsend said: "Just to trust myself and believe in myself. I have a lot of weapons, and I have a lot of gifts and talents that not many people have, that I have to believe in. Just trust it, because that's going to separate me from a lot of different people.''

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