It was an unlikely matchup with Sloane Stephens ranked No. 5 and Taylor Townsend No. 60, meeting in the opening round in Melbourne. Townsend was anxious to prove herself but unraveled at the end.
Both were a bit nervous with Townsend the one more eager to prove she can take on Stephens and win. She earlier had gotten the runner-up title partnering with Paige Hourigan in doubles at Auckland and a few months ago earned two Challenger titles. She clearly brought her spunk into the opening set causing Stephens to scramble for too many points against Townsend, who had came up a break on Stephens leading 3-2. She had used more muscle in her shots than Stephens and had gotten over on her…but only for awhile. Stephens fought hard to tie the games at 3-all and then Townsend started her consistent volleying, surprising Stephens with her aggressiveness. But the 2017 US Open champion was too smart for that and evened the games soon at 4-all. Townsend’s game became too predictable and Stephens simply passed her cross court winning points and soon the first set at 6-4.
The second set showed a greater line between experience and wanting-to-be experienced as Townsend’s game fizzled, Stephens stayed steady with her regular hitting pattern to get the first break. “An excellent pass by Taylor Townsend,” a commentator would say when the Challenger title holder surprised Stephens with a volley blast which she misjudged and hit in the net. Stephens started to get fierce and pumped up the volume zipping shots passed the anxious Townsend and it became obvious that she’d lost that great aggressive feeling leaving the commentator to say “I don’t know that Townsend has the firepower…” It appears that her bread and butter technique is coming up to that net and twice it burnt her as she sent the ball into the net. Townsend managed to volley her way to win one more game pulling Stephens game lead to 5-1 including her serve down the ‘T’. She was glowing with confidence now but got a bit sloppy gifting Townsend with one more game, but after that it was a done deal and the match lasted a bit over an hour. Sloane Stephens was relieved and smilingly said “She has one of those games that’s tricky…I just had to stay patient.” Stephens will march on to round two confident she’ll reap another victory for staying focused, patient, and strategically sound.