I witnessed a “breakthrough moment” for a player at the US Open that caught my attention. The player was American qualifier Taylor Townsend from Atlanta Georgia. She is currently ranked # 93 in the world and her opponent was #4 seed Simona Halep from Romania, the reigning Wimbledon champion. Taylor won the match 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 and it IS the first time in her career that she has beaten a top 10 singles player.
As I listened to the post-match press conference from both Taylor and Simona, a few revealing things were said regarding the match. Taylor talked about the few previous times she has played Simona and described her mindset in those matches being “I played to not lose” rather than “I played my game to win”. Taylor is known for her unconventional game style as an aggressive player who comes to net frequently. “I have always come to net since I was a young player. Winning this match was a confirmation that this style of play works for me and I need to continue to do it.” Taylor came to net 106 times in the three set match and won 60% of those points. This statistic is called the “Aggressive Error Margin” and refers to the odds of winning points at net. When set up properly, the chance of winning points at net is 66% on average. Many players just don’t have the skills and inner commitment to execute such an aggressive game style but for Taylor she has dedicated herself both physically and mentally to refine these skills to the point where she is now starting to reap the rewards of her inner commitment. She turned pro at age 16 and has been on tour for over seven years with what most would consider a lack-luster career up to this point. “It’s been a long journey with many ups and downs. Many others have doubted that I could make it but what they say doesn’t matter. I know who I am and what makes me tick.”
In Simona’s press conference she talked about how much pressure she felt when Taylor was attacking the net so frequently. “I have never played with someone coming so often to net before. It felt like she was coming forward almost every point! I lost my rhythm and feel as the match progressed Taylor was hitting good volleys on many of my passing shots. She was more inspired than me and was better today.”
It’s important for players to understand that a key goal in match-play is committing to your game plan. An important aspect to committing at a deeper level is a mental process. As this mental switch is turned on your ability to effectively focus on the right things in practice and in competition will improve and in time the wins will come. To illustrate this point Taylor talked about a recent result she had at Wimbledon this past July. “I had a match point against the #4 seed Bertens at Wimbledon and didn’t get the win. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but you dust yourself off and keep going. I have learned to thrive in these conditions and I think that it showed today.”