Baseline Buzz: Sloane or Townsend?


PARIS -- On second thought, perhaps Serena Williams' 64 minutes of lifeless tennis Wednesday didn't completely kill the vibe of the Americans.

We can thank the youngest player in the French Open draw for that. She's a former Aussie Open junior champ, who is refreshingly poised at 18 years old and, perhaps most importantly, she's reaping the praise of Andy Murray.

Which leads us to Taylor Townsend, the highly touted U.S. teenager who knocked out the 20th-ranked Alize Cornet. After a disastrous day that saw first Venus Williams and then Serena exit the French Open, Townsend's win infused some serious energy back into the tournament.

But not to be outdone is Sloane Stephens, who, for all the scrutiny, if not criticism, she has endured, showed off her talent once again by reaching the third round of the French Open on Thursday.

So, you might wonder, who has a bigger upside, Townsend or Stephens? To the Baseline Buzz we go:

Jim Caple: It's an intriguing question. Who would you pick for your fantasy team? If you're just picking for this year, the easy answer is Stephens. But for down the road? Hmmm. Stephens was the next big thing last year when she beat Serena in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, then reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the US Open. But she hasn't made any progress since. Playing very inconsistently, she has slipped from 12th to 19th and gone one-and-done in five tournaments this year. She has amazing talent -- but she needs to play much more consistently and bring the same game to the lesser tournaments as the Slams.

Matt Wilansky: Which brings up another question: Why has Stephens played so flat or, more so, uninspired ball outside of the majors? Generally, players with nothing more to prove, a la Roger Federer and Serena Williams, might annex that mindset, but for Sloane, she's done virtually nothing outside the Slams and that aforementioned Aussie Open run last year. Stephens has a total of zero titles on tour, which as I am sure you know, Jim, isn't Hall of Fame stuff. But again, she's only 21 years old, and you'd like to think that she'll begin taking lesser tournaments more seriously. As for Townsend, she's still green, but the early indications here in Paris are positive, especially for someone who came into the French Open with a grand total of only two WTA-level matches under her belt this season.

Caple: Townsend obviously has the confidence and the strong desire to win. She's the youngest woman to reach the third round here in five years and says she wants to win several majors by age 22 and ranked No. 1 in the world. She also has a wonderful all-around game, including a dynamic overhead. Now, she also is not exactly svelte, which the USTA made into an issue in 2012. Will her weight hamper her progress as a player? Or will she simply grow into a very strong, very powerful player like Serena? Stamina certainly wasn't an issue in her second-round match against Cornet. She was just as tough in the third set as she was in the first.

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