Taylor Townsend has a body like Serena…and that’s a problem.
Here’s the back story.
Two years ago, 16 year old Taylor Townsend, was the number one junior women’s player in the world, and nearly missed a spot in the U.S. Open because U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) told her they weren’t going to finance her appearance in anymore tournaments until she got into better shape.
Like many black, female athletes, Townsend is not stick-thin. At 16, she was 5’6” and weighed about 170-pounds. Despite being the top-ranked player on the junior’s circuit and winning the Australian Open, the brass at the USTA aimed to pull the teen from the U.S. Open and any other tournaments until she loses weight.
But should she? She was a top ranked player! It’s a shame that some elements of tennis can’t quite understand that not all black women can simply fit into the stick-thin, cookie cutter mold of their mostly blonde competitors.
For years the William sisters and their father have alleged that the USTA continuously made similar comments directed at them. When the sisters first burst on the scene, Serena was seen as fat, out of shape, and too big to be a serious athlete (and the comments on many articles mentioning Townsend suggest the same).
Townsend said she was devastated when her USTA coaches told her she couldn’t compete in the U.S. back then. “Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player,” Patrick McEnroe, general manager of the USTA’s player development program, first told the press at the time.
When confronted by some members of the media, McEnroe then said the USTA’s refusal to fund Townsend’s birth in the U.S. Open had “nothing to do with weight; it has nothing to do with body type,” they have decided to reimburse Townsend’s mother, calling the entire situation a “miscommunication.”
Townsend went to the tournament anyway — without USTA’s support, her mother was forced to pay their travel costs – and she won the junior doubles title and advanced to the quarterfinals in the singles division. That same year, Townsend also won the singles and doubles titles at Junior Australian Open, the junior doubles title at Wimbledon.
Fast Forward to this year’s French Open.
When 18-year-old tennis sensation Taylor Townsend beat 21st-ranked Alize Cornet in the second round of the French Open last week, she did more than simply extend her thrilling Grand Slam debut by advancing to the third round.
The 205th-ranked Townsend’s made history by being the youngest U.S. woman to advance to the third round at the French Open since 2003.
After the USTA controversy, Townsend stopped working with coaches from the association and now splits her time training with former Wimbledon runner-up Zina Garrison in Washington, DC and former collegiate player Kamau Murray, in Chicago.
Both Townsend and Garrison say her negative experience with the USTA over her weight and fitness level have helped her improve — both on and off the tennis court.
“It’s made her tougher. She’s very good now at taking that negative and turning it into a positive. You can’t help but grow up in that situation,” Garrison told the New York Times this week.
“It helped me believe in myself more,” Townsend told ABC News of the criticism. “It also opened my eyes to say, ‘You know, you’re not going to look like everyone else.’”
The views expressed are that solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect WHUR or Howard University.
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