Top seed Taylor Townsend rolled into the semifinals of the Waco Showdown $80K on Friday by doing something no women’s pro tennis player on the planet has done all year at this level of competition.
By crushing fifth-seeded Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia, 6-1, 6-0, the 21-year-old American got through three matches in a $60,000-and-up ITF event while dropping only two games.
Not only has no women’s player matched that run this season — or for who knows how long before that — but no one has even come close. The next-best three-match loss total in any of the 70-plus other major Challenger events world-wide this year was eight games, and five players have done it — including Townsend herself, at a $60,000 event in Templeton, Calif., two months ago.
It was one thing to throw a first-round shutout at Baylor senior Theresa Van Zyl, who was making her Challenger debut. It’s quite another to dismantle a pair of pros, American Usue Maitane Arconada and Schmiedlova, ranked 234th and 133rd in the world, respectively.
“I’m just trying to play point by point and not get too far ahead of myself,” said Townsend, who has dropped only 72 points in her three matches, an average of 12 per set. “Obviously that’s a good stat, but I’m not thinking about that when I’m on the court. I’m just trying to stay focused on what’s in front of me at that very moment.”
What’s in front of her now is a semifinal matchup with third seed Sofia Kenin, a 6-4, 6-3 winner over Danielle Lao. Both players have a lot at stake in Saturday’s 11 a.m. meeting at Baylor’s Hurd Tennis Center.
Townsend, currently ranked 105th in the world, would move into the Top 100 and all but lock up a berth in the Australian Open main draw with a victory. And Kenin, who moved up to No. 113 with last week’s semifinal run at the $80,000 RBC Pro Challenge in Tyler, would be right on the cusp of main-draw acceptance as well if she can get past Townsend.
Both players are still in the hunt for the Melbourne berth that comes with winning the USTA Pro Circuit’s Australian Open Wild Card Challenge. But paradoxically, neither is likely to use it.
The only way either player can win the Challenge outright is to win the tournament, and doing so would put either one comfortably in the Top 100 and guarantee a berth without using the wild card. Kenin, however, has moved up to second in the Challenge behind leader Kristie Ahn, and even with a loss Saturday could receive the wild card if Ahn is accepted into the Open based on her ranking (No. 106).
Saturday’s other semifinal will pit Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over American teen Kayla Day, against Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson, who eliminated former USC standout Danielle Lao. Day and Lao were both eliminated from the Wild Card Challenge with their losses.
Saturday’s two semifinals will be followed by the doubles final, pitting Townsend and partner Jessica Pegula against Kenin and Anastasiya Komardina. Admission is free, and all three matches will be broadcast live on RadioTennis.com.