July 12, 2024

Open Court


On a back court in Miami, the present and future of American tennis

KEY BISCAYNE – At 20, Taylor Townsend can still be the present of American tennis even though at No. 111 in the rankings she is the 18th-highest ranked American woman. Of those ahead of her, though, only two (including the rising Cici Bellis) are younger.

At 15 and ranked No. 512, there are 50 American players ranked higher than Amanda Anisimova. She is younger than all of them, by quite a bit  Before Monday, when the Floridian’s ranking jumped about 200 spots with a stellar effort at a $25,000 tournament in Brazil (the week after not dropping a set in winning a Grade A-level ITF junior event nearby), there were even more ahead of her, and she zoomed right by them.

Townsend (who got through the qualifying in, surprisingly, her first appearance in Miami) and precocious Anisimova met in the first round of the Miami Open Wednesday, late in the day and tucked away back on Court No. 9.

The tiny show court was standing-room only with a line to get in by the third set while bigger stadia nearby had mostly empty seats, so the schedulers probably underestimated the appeal of two young Americans (one who lives nearby, the other an African-American who drew a big cheering section).

Even Genie Bouchard’s mother Julie Leclair was on hand to watch. In that full-circle kind of way, Anisimova is working with Nick Saviano, Bouchard’s longtime coach.

Townsend managed to hang on for the win, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 in nearly two hours, staving off a hard-hitting opponent who competes extremely well for her age and whose serve, in particular, looks greatly improved even since last year’s junior French Open.

Here’s what it looked like.

Anisimova got to the final in Paris at age 14 before losing to Rebeka Masarova, who is a full two years older.

She is at that fearless stage where she just pulls the trigger on her groundstrokes with every expectation that they will go in. Townsend was once that carefree teenager, before life and public pressure and the reality of the level of tennis at the very top of the game set in.

But now, the Chicago native is inching closer to a main draw spot in the summer Slams at the French Open and Wimbledon. Townsend has won main-draw wild cards into majors through the USTA before, and she qualified on her own for the US Open last summer. But other than that, she’s gotten straight into a major only once.

She plays No. 25 seed Roberta Vinci in the next round in a matchup that could be a tennis purists’ delight, with Vinci’s slice and all-court game and Townsend’s willingness to come to the net and great craft when she gets there.

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