Archive for September 3, 2019

Taylor Townsend weathered highs, lows to finally break through at tennis’ top level

What a journey for TT. Born in 1996 and turned pro in 2012 and earned $1.7m prize so far. Her body shape has been an issue to a point that USTA withheld funding – a mean thing they did to her. But now she made into the sweet 16 and everybody begins talking about her … that’s the reality and life, I suppose.

Her game is serve and volley, which is rare, and is being coached by Donald Young Sr. – father of  Donald (1989, 2004, $4.6m) – I used to have high hope for Donald Jr. but that doesn’t seem to be happening now that he’s 30 years old. Hope TT would be a successful player than Don.

Tonight, TT’s opponent is Canadian Bianca Andreescu (2000, 2017, $2.4m) is equally in chubbiness.


Wayne Coffey, Special for USA TODAY Sports | Sept. 2, 2019 |

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. — She is a minority of one, standing alone among all 256 singles players who began the 2019 US Open.

Taylor Townsend looks different. She plays different. She is a left-handed serve-and-volleyer, a player of color, a big-bodied woman who has powered her way through humiliation, despondence, long stretches of losing and enough toxicity to overflow a landfill.

But there she was in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night, a 23-year-old qualifier, deeper than she’d ever been in a Grand Slam, squaring off against No.15 Bianca Andreescu of Canada in the round of 16.

Chrissie Evert, 18-time major champion in singles and ESPN commentator, first saw Townsend’s abundant gifts when she was the No. 1 junior player in the world, when Townsend was training with the USTA at the Evert Academy in Boca Raton, Florida. Evert watched in wonder as Townsend ousted Simona Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion and No. 4 seed, in the second round, charging the net 106 times in the process. She was impressed again when Townsend did much the same thing to Sorana Cirstea in the third round, channeling the unrelenting aggressiveness of her tennis role model, Martina Navratilova.

“I couldn’t be happier for Taylor,” Evert told USA TODAY Sports in an interview in the ESPN suite. “For her age she’s gone through a lot more than other girls. There were a lot of people who didn’t believe in her and gave up on her. At the end of the day she’s kind of giving it back to them.

“I want her to hold her head high and walk like a champion. It’s such a great story.”

Taylor Townsend reacts after beating Simona Halep in the second round of the US Open. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

Few athletes have experienced more extreme highs and lows than Townsend. Her astonishing hands and athletic gifts helped her become the first U.S. junior to finish with the year-end No. 1 ranking in 30 years. She won the junior singles and doubles titles in Australia, and the doubles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open. There wasn’t a doubt among anyone that she was, in Evert’s words, “the next it girl” in American tennis.

The USTA, however, had concerns that Townsend’s fitness was not where it needed to be to compete at the highest levels going forward – so much so that player-development executives, headed by then-general manager Patrick McEnroe, withheld funding for her to travel to such competitions as the U.S. 18’s nationals and the US Open.

“Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player,” McEnroe said at the time. “We have one goal in mind: For her to be playing in [Arthur Ashe Stadium] in the main draw and competing for major titles when it’s time.”

Townsend had to come up with her own funds to travel, but the money was much less of an issue than the stigma that came with the decision. While the USTA insisted it was acting in Townsend’s best interest, the decision was criticized by many, including Lindsay Davenport, a player whose physique was also under scrutiny when she first came on tour, as well as Serena Williams, who tweeted, “Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything.”

Though the USTA later reversed itself and reimbursed Townsend for the funds, her fitness and body shape were now part of the tennis discourse, and she was still in her mid-teens. It wasn’t easy, at all. Her performance suffered. She won only four matches in 2015 and seriously considered quitting the sport.

“It’s really hard to deal with that kind of stuff, when personal issues are publicized,” Townsend said. “That’s always attached to you. You have to kind of maneuver through those things. It’s been a long road. A lot of haters, a lot of people who weren’t sure. I’ve heard it for a really long time that I was never going to make it, that I wasn’t going to be able to break through or do this or do that.”

Evert said she had deep compassion for the burden Townsend was carrying.

“She’s a great athlete, (but I do) think in the past her fitness has been the elephant in the room. (It has made for) a rough road, emotionally, confidence-wise, and with tournament results.”

‘Keep your head down and keep working’

Townsend’s rank bottomed out at 394 early in 2016. Instead of playing in the main draw of Grand Slams, she had to play the qualification round just to get in; that’s what she did here, winning three matches just to get into the field of 128. With such a low ranking, her only playing options were $25,000 challenger tournaments in the tennis hinterlands, trying to rebuild her game and her belief in herself.

It was a long process, but she started to climb. Serve-and-volley games, with so many strategic intricacies and different shots to make, almost always take longer to develop. By the summer of 2018, Townsend reached a career-high of No. 61, and finished the year in the top 75.

“You keep your head down and keep working and you see what happens,” Townsend said.

She had another breakthrough of sorts at Wimbledon this year, making the second round, holding a match point against Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, before getting too cute with a volley and losing in three sets.

That fired Townsend up to bring her best at the Open, and under the guidance of coach Donald Young Sr., she has done that.

Kathy Rinaldi, a former top-10 player and the USTA’s head women’s coach, said that everyone in USTA player development is thrilled for Townsend’s showing at the Open.

“I’m not going to go backward (and talk about the withdrawal of funding),” Rinaldi told USA TODAY Sports. “It was so long ago. I have a great relationship with Taylor. She’s an incredible athlete and she’s got all the tools. She’s the type of person who can not only light up a court, but also light up a room.”

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, a tour veteran and doubles specialist, had made her living off of volleys. She admires Townsend’s hands, and her tenacity, and believes there is an important lesson here in body stereotyping.

“There’s not one perfect image that makes what we think is a really good athlete or tennis player,” Mattek-Sands told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s not like, ‘Okay, if you like this, you will play like this and be a superstar.’ There are a (lot) of body shapes on the tour now.

“I like that diversity on the tour and I like people knowing about that diversity. I think in the U.S., and hopefully around the world, there’s just been a lot more awareness around what’s considered perfect and ideal, and what’s amazing about you, no matter what size, shape, color you are.”

Evert is interested to see how things go for Townsend from here.

“I think this tournament has empowered her. For Americans who have followed her journey, the ups and downs, she deserves some bright moments,” Evert said.

Townsend said she is much better now at embracing the day-to-day challenges of the tour, to “keep plucking” every day. She believes now more than ever that she belongs at this level.

“Ultimately everyone’s journey is different,” Townsend said. “Some people’s happens quicker than others. Mine took, what? Six, seven years? You know, I feel better than ever before. So, I mean, I’m just thankful for where I am now and kind of the things I had to go through in order to be here and appreciate where I am.”

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