April 19, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – For awhile there, as the Montreal and Cincinnati WTA 1000 tournaments flew by and there was no sign of them, fans of Team Tay-Lah were expecting the worse: a split for this appealing doubles team that has been making new fans all season.

But fear not. All is good with Taylor Townsend and Leylah Fernandez, who have won three matches at this US Open and are into the quarterfinals.

They beat young Americans Olivia Center and Kate Fakih (The USTA under 18s doubles champions) in their opener, their first match together since losing to Caroline Garcia and Luisa Stefani in the second round at Wimbledon.

Then, a sometimes-contentious, somewhat feisty but hugely crowd-pleasing 6-2, 7-5 win over Spaniards Aliona Bolsova and Rebeka Masarova.

They celebrated with a little low-level soaring, and then a swag surf (ask your kids).

On Sunday, the pair posted a 7-6 (3), 6-1 win over veterans Karolina Pliskova and Donna Vekic.

And so they will play Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski and Cana-Kiwi Erin Routliffe in the quarterfinals, after the two got a walkover from Czechs Barbora Strycova and Marketa Vondrousova Monday.

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Still in the running for the WTA Finals, but …

Wherever their journey ends in this US Open, Team Tay-Lah should still be among the top eight teams in the race to the year-end finals.

Wherever they end up being held; less than two months to go, and we still don’t know.

But there’s no guarantee Team Tay-Lah will be there.

“We both agreed that if we make year-end championships, we’re there. Wherever it is, I’ll see you there. We’re going to play in San Diego and Guadalajara. And then after that we’re prioritizing our singles more so than doubles,” said Townsend, whose singles ranking sits just outside the top 100 after making the third round here.

“So if it works out after that, fine,” Fernandez said.

Things got a … little feisty in their second-round match against the Spaniards, But Team Tay-Lah got through.

Townsend said that even if they didn’t play another tournament together the rest of 2023, they’d still be in good shape in 2024, easily into the doubles main draws at the majors and other big events.

Because after the San Diego – Guadalajara swing, they might well go their separate ways. They haven’t entered the doubles at either event but, with their rankings, they can sign in on site with ease.

“As you approach the end of the year, fatigue starts setting in and you want to make sure that you’re managing the body. But then also we’re prioritizing singles and we both are on the same page with that. So we haven’t really come up with a concrete plan as a team of what we’re going to do,” Townsend said.

Asia for Fernandez, decisions for Townsend

As this point, Fernandez is on board for at least Tokyo and Beijing as the WTA Tour returns to Asia, although she may well have to go through the qualifying.

For Townsend, whose ranking is a little lower and who also has a young son, it’s a more complex decision. Her take on it is that if she’s going to fly all that distance she’s going there to win, so she’s going to bring her team with her. And that means there are significantly higher expenses involved.

So far, she hasn’t entered anything.

“I’m not going to fly and chase and travel all around the world for one or two results,” she said. “As of right now, because of where my ranking is falling, I just have to see. Because those tournaments are going to be extremely strong – especially the bigger ones that are higher calibre, with more points, which are what you try to play when you’re going that far.”

The American added that going all the way to Asia to play qualifying every week is rough – especially because, as she pointed out, there’s no fallback. “In Europe, I was in qualies every week, but then there was a (WTA) 125 or there was a Challenger that you could play to kind of offset those. They don’t have that over (in Asia),” Townsend said.

A last-gasp qualifying effort, if necessary?

While the two will likely not team up in Asia, there is a PLETHORA of tournaments there this fall. And that means that a lot of other teams will be trying to pile up the points to make the final eight.

So, Open Court asked, if it came down to points and one good result would put them over the top and into the finals, would they consider trying to make it happen?

Townsend said they’d have to talk about it. But that it didn’t seem to make much sense going all the way for one tournament – despite the obvious financial rewards of making the year-end finals.

“When Leylah and I started playing in Indian Wells, we were just like, ‘We’re just going to have fun and see what happens’. So that’s still our mentality,” Townsend said. “If we make it, we make it. If we don’t, we’re proud of the results that we’ve had throughout the year. And we could easily be labeled as probably one of the better doubles teams in the world, even if we didn’t make the year-end championship.”

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