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Day Four at Flushing Meadows saw an astounding Taylor Townsend oust Simona Halep, Alexander Zverev struggle to put away Frances Tiafoe and Nick Kyrgios continue to pick up momentum. 

By Daniel Rapaport
August 29, 2019

NEW YORK — A rained out Wednesday here at the U.S. Open was followed by a sun-soaked Thursday. Here are five thoughts as Day Four wraps up:

—There is no shortage of young talent in American women’s tennis. Amanda Anisimova, 17, had her coming out party in Australia; Coco Gauff, 15, held her own in London, and Caty McNally, also 17, impressed thoroughly in taking Serena to three sets here last night. Then there’s Taylor Townsend, once considered the Next Big Thing—she finished 2012 as the No. 1 junior in the world—but now, seven years later, she’s often overshadowed by an even younger crop of up-and-comers

Still just 23 years old, Townsend scored the biggest victory of her life and the biggest upset of the tournament in beating No. 4 seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in three sets. She came to net a staggering 106 times—in a three-set match!—winning 64 of those points and, more importantly, keeping Halep on her heels. For as well as Townsend played, Halep’s inability to adjust cannot be ignored.

Still, it’s a career-boosting win for Townsend, who has dropped all the way to world No. 116 and had to win three qualifying matches just to get into the draw. She’ll move up more than a few spots with her showing here and has a great to chance to reach the fourth round, as she’ll face another Romanian in No. 106 Sorana Cirstea on Saturday.

—For all the ink used on Nick Kyrgios, it’s important to note that he has reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam just twice in his career, the most recent being the 2015 Aussie Open. He has his best chance to equal or better that result here, as first-round exits by Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Roberto Bautista Agut has left his quarter of the draw wider-than-wide open. A tricky third-round matchup with a red-hot Andrey Rublev looms large, but if Kyrgios is up for it, he is probably the favorite to reach the semifinals.

That is a massive if. Just two weeks ago, Kyrgios was smashing racquets and cursing umpires in Cincinnati. You can never rule out him returning to those antics, but he’s been on his best behavior through two rounds here. He’s now won six sets in a row after a straightforward beatdown of Antoine Hoang, and if he stays buttoned up for just three more matches, he could have the kind of tournament that changes the entire trajectory of his career.

—Another early match at a Grand Slam, another five-setter for Alexander Zverev. Two days after going the distance to beat Radu Albot, the No. 6 seed was given everything he can handle by Frances Tiafoe, eventually prevailing in a match of second-week quality.

Zverev has made a habit of spending far too much time on the court in the opening rounds at majors, and that toll is part of the reason his Slam record lags so far behind his best-of-three resume. But not all five-setters are created equal, and he had to dig deep to get past an explosive player buoyed by a pro-American Arthur Ashe crowd. Zverev will be relieved to be through rather than annoyed that it took so long, but you can bet a three-set victory sounds pretty darn appetizing right now.

On the flip side, a brutal loss for Tiafoe, who had a great Aussie Open—he lost to Nadal in the quarters there—but hasn’t done too much since. Especially in the Slams: he lost a five-setter in the first round of the French, a five-setter to Fabio Fognini in the first round of Wimbledon and now this. Had he gotten past Zverev, world No. 80 Aljaz Bedene is all that would have stood between him and a second-week appearance. Tiafoe’s progression maybe hasn’t been as steeply ascendant as he’d have hoped, but the plea here is for patience. He does not turn 22 until January.

—Jenson Brooksby has one helluva choice to make. The 18-year-old from California is committed to enroll at Baylor in January and play college tennis for the Bears, but a little something called the U.S. Open has made things a little more complicated.

The only American man to make it into the main draw through qualifying, Brooksby beat 33-year-old Tomas Berdych in the first round before bowing out to No. 17 Nikoloz Basilashvili in four sets. If he decides to turn professional and forego his NCAA eligibility, he will be entitled to $100,000 in prize money. If he opts to honor his commitment and go to college, he leaves it on the table.

From speaking with him after the match, it’s clear this is a kid who understands that this call is not a simple one. He knows there are off-court financial incentives outside of just prize money and he knows the value of a four-year education at a private university. His predicament is an enviable one—the stress that comes with the choice, less so.

—Scheduling is a bit like refereeing in that you only read about it when something goes awry. Alas, you’re reading about it, so something is off. Tomorrow’s day session on Ashe features Roger Federer vs. Dan Evans, then Serena Williams vs. Karolina Muchova. The night session is Sofia Kenin vs. Madison Keys then Novak Djokovic vs. Denis Kudla. You have to think there will be unhappy campers who knew Federer and Serena would play on Friday, splurged on tickets for the first weekend night session of the U.S. Open thinking you’d get at least one of them … and come up empty. 

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