Taylor Townsend defeated Alize Cornet to reach the third round of the French Open. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
PARIS -- Playing in her first Grand Slam tournament, 18-year-old Taylor Townsend stunned No. 20 Alizé Cornet 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 on Wednesday to become the youngest American to advance to the third round of the French Open since 2003.
Behind some powerful hitting, the 205th-ranked Townsend opened a 6-4, 4-1 lead over France's No. 1 player only to find herself in a decisive set after losing five straight games marked by nervous play. But the teenager rebounded, building a 5-1 advantage in the third set before finally serving it out.
Highlights from her upset below:
So, if you have never heard about Taylor Townsend, it's time to start studying. Here's what you need to know:
• She's a lefty: She caught Cornet off-guard numerous times with the spin on her shots.
• She was a standout as a junior: In 2012, Townsend became the first American to hold the year-end No. 1 junior ranking since 1982. That year she won the girls' singles and doubles titles at the Australian Open; the doubles title at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open; and the singles title at the prestigious Easter Bowl. She turned pro at the end of the year at 16.
• She earned her French Open wild card the hard way: The U.S. and France have a reciprocal wild-card agreement, but the USTA has instituted a playoff format with the winner getting the American berth. Townsend won it by winning back-to-back ITF titles (the first two her career) in Charlottesville, Va., and Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., this spring. In the latter event, she won her singles semifinal and final, and doubles semifinal and final, in the same day.
Taylor Townsend beat Karin Knapp in the first round of Indian Wells this year. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
• She won only two WTA Tour matches before the French Open: Her two wins both came at Indian Wells, beating No. 57 Lucie Hradecka last year and No. 49 Karin Knapp this year. Overall, despite barely cracking the top 200, she has six wins over top-125 opponents. She's now doubled that count to four, after beating No. 65 Vania King in the first round at Roland Garros.
• She has some experience in her corner: After parting ways with the USTA, she paired up with former No. 4 and Wimbledon runner-up Zina Garrison. She also works with Kamau Murray, a coach she's known since she was 6.
"[Garrison] made it to the quarters the first time she played the French Open, so she knows the feeling, she understands these moments," Townsend said.
• The USTA tried to stop her from playing the 2012 girls' U.S. Open because of fitness issues: Townsend, the top-ranked junior at the time, was in the middle of controversy when the USTA refused to finance her travel expenses to the tournament until she got into better shape. She entered anyway and made the quarterfinals. In an interview with The New York Times, Garrison says the experience made Townsend stronger.
“The biggest thing was just getting her to understand that she’s fine,” Garrison said. “Everybody doesn’t have the same shape of our bodies. She’s very clear on that now.”
“I challenge over half of these girls out here to do some of the stuff that she does,” Garrison said.
• She splits her time between Chicago and Washington: She trains with Garrison in D.C. and Murray in Chicago, where she was born and her family still lives.
• Her game has both power and variety: Everyone who follows tennis has been excited about Townsend for a long time (SI.com's Jon Wertheim recorded a podcast with her back in June 2012). She has a refreshing all-court game with good power on her groundstrokes, but also has tremendous hands at the net. Townsend said the best thing I've heard from a young player in a long time when I spoke to her last year in Charleston, S.C.
“When I first started playing tennis, one of the first things I learned how to do was volley,” Townsend said. “So this is really what I know. When I get in trouble in matches, the first thing I do is find a way to the net.”
How refreshing is that?
• She uses music to pump her up before matches: Here's what she's listening to this week.
• She absolutely idolizes Roger Federer: She tweets him coaching advice and can't stop begging him to get to the net. “Yeah, I love him,” she told reporters last year. “I love him.”
• Andy Murray thinks she's pretty great: Murray was watching Townsend's big win over Cornet and he likes what he sees:
Townsend lit up when she was told about Murray's tweets. Said Townsend: "What's up, Andy? I love your mom."
• Andrea Petkovic thinks she's the future: After beating Townsend in Charleston last year, Petkovic sang her praises.
“I told her ‘Girl, you’re gonna be big later on, but please wait until I’m done with it,’” the German said, laughing. “Like, I’m serious. I really think so. I love that kind of player. I mean, it’s exaggerated, but she is my idol, kind of, because that’s what we all forget in the course of being a professional tennis player. Because it’s fun and that’s why we started playing the game.”
Petkovic said that when she was 16 she was just a ball-basher with no purpose or intent. Townsend is different.
“I feel like she really knows what she has to do,” Petkovic said. “It’s a little bit all over the place [right now] because I think she has so many options when the ball comes to her that sometimes she gets confused. She can play the slice, she can play a drop shot, she can hit it, she can spin it.”
• She likes to read from a notebook during changeovers: "Basically they're just notes from practice," she told reporters Wednesday. "I use them in every match, I use them in practice, as well. They get me back into a state of mind where [I'm] keeping things simple. I have been doing it for so long it's kind of a habit now, so if I don't read it, it's weird. It's more of a habit."
• She did the Nae Nae as her victory dance: It was planned and she rocked it. "I was like, If I win, then I'm going to do a dance," she said. "Zina was up there going, Wooh, wooh. They knew what I was doing. It seemed like the crowd liked it. I hope I didn't look stupid."
• She could join some heady company with another win: If Townsend beats No. 14 Carla Suarez Navarro on Friday, she would become the youngest American to advance to the fourth round of the French Open since Serena and Venus Williams in 1998.
• She had no idea Serena Williams lost earlier in the day: Townsend misread the scoreline of Serena's match against Garbine Muguruza and didn't realize the No. 1 had lost 6-2, 6-2 until being told in her postmatch news conference:
Q: How did it feel winning on the same court where just hours earlier Serena had lost?
Townsend: Serena lost? She did? Oh. Oops. Whoa.
Q: Seriously, you didn't know?
Townsend: No, I thought she won. I saw 2 and 2. I was like, 'Oh, that was fast.' Wow.