New York (AFP) - Taylor Townsend is charging into the US Open spotlight the same way she charges to the net in her matches, stars and strangers congratulating her run to the last 16.
The 23-year-old American left-hander defeated Romania's 106th-ranked Sorana Cirstea 7-5, 6-2 in 87 minutes Saturday to book a fourth-round meeting with Canadian teen Bianca Andreescu for a quarter-final berth.
Townsend upset reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in the second round, with actor Samuel L. Jackson, TV show host Ellen DeGeneres and NBA legend Kobe Bryant tweeting support.
"Oh, my God, I lost my mind when the Kobe thing happened, because I love him," Townsend said.
"But, yeah, I mean, Ellen and all these -- like, it's insane, honestly. Like being on a social media sabbatical like a few months ago to getting 10,000 followers overnight is weird.
"But honestly, I'm thankful for it, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I know it's a part of the territory, and I love it. I'm embracing it."
Townsend was touched because for years she has toiled away at lesser levels thinking no one might ever notice.
"So many people have been just saying congratulations and sending me really nice messages, I was just shocked because I didn't think that many people cared," she said.
"It's amazing to see that the tennis community is watching and embracing and appreciating something that's not the norm."
Townsend is on the deepest Grand Slam run of her career, surpassing her third-round effort at the 2014 French Open in her Grand Slam debut.
Townsend, ranked 116th, became the sixth qualifier in eight years to reach the US Open's last 16, the first since Kaia Kanepi in 2017.
- Wouldn't change a thing -
She did it with an impressive style of racing to the net and daring her rivals to hit winners past her. She went to the net 105 times against Halep and won 47 of 75 points at the net from Cirstea.
"Once I saw it worked and the effect I had, I tried to implement it as much as I could," Townsend said. "I got passed. She hit good shots. When you play this game style it's just a part of it and you just have to keep plugging away. I think that's the hardest part."
Developing the style took courage and willingness to accept she would surrender her share of points to dominate on others.
"It was definitely tough because not a lot of people do it, and it's kind of like a mental thing because the game moves so fast now," she said.
"Tennis is a game where you win and lose points constantly. It's just about how you manage those things and how you get past it. It kind of balances itself out. So you just try to bounce back the best you can and continue to pluck away."
Townsend recalled struggling at lesser events and nearly quitting before growing confident enough to stay with tennis.
"I went one year and I won four matches in a calendar year," she said. "I feel better than ever before. I'm just thankful for where I am now and the things I had to go through in order to be here.
"I wouldn't change anything because I appreciate so much where I am, because I know where I came from. And I think it's easy for people to forget where they came from."