You’d think since being rated the top Junior player in the United States, tennis phenom Taylor Townsend would be best known for her prowess on the court. However, aside from Townsend’s legendary on-court tennis battles, are plenty of battles of a different sort. Two years ago, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) asked Taylor to sit out of the 2012 Open Junior Tournament due to concerns about her “conditioning”. And by conditioning, they meant body shape. And by body shape they meant how Townsend looked in a dress. According to Tom Perotta of the Wall St. Journal:
Her coaches declined to pay her travel expenses to attend the Open and told her this summer that they wouldn’t finance any tournament appearances until she makes sufficient progress in one area: slimming down and getting into better shape.
“Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player,” said Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA’s player development program. “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. That’s how we make every decision, based on that.”
But it doesn’t just stop at funding. According to Perrotta, the USTA actually requested that Townsend skip the U.S. Open, denying both her petitions for wild cards into either the U.S. Open main draw or the qualifying tournament. In the end, Townsend’s family decided to pay out of their own pockets for Taylor to compete in the U.S. Open Junior Tournament. She was ultimately defeated in the quarterfinals by Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.
It’s clear that Taylor knows on which side her baguette is buttered. In 2012 Townsend said: “I’ve gotten a lot of great opportunities, great fitness, great coaching,” she said. “I’m doing everything that they ask me to do and being professional about everything.”
Nevertheless, Townsend has to be feeling more than a little gratified over Tuesday’s French Open results. The match had some moments that seemed straight out of a movie script. In the first set of her first match, Taylor got behind 1-5. She then won12 of the following 13 games to win over her U.S. opponent Vania King 7-5, 6-1. Today (Wednesday, May 28) Townsend (ranked 205th) is scheduled to battle top-ranked Frenchwoman Alize Cornet (ranked 21st) at the 10,000-seat Suzanne Lenglen Court. So surely at this point we’re focusing on her playing prowess, right? Right?
Well, today’s New York Times article on Townsend is titled “Questioned About Body, Townsend Rises and Inspires”. Now the article goes on to say that Taylor is playing amazing tennis, and that Wednesday’s matchup promises to be very exciting. The article contains quotes from Taylor’s new coach (Zina Garrison) talking about how Townsend is “fine”, and how she doesn’t wish her young tennis protege to suffer over criticism or worry about her weight. So I’ll offer some slight props to the Times for inserting some body positivity into the article. But let’s not forget that the first three words of the headline are not “Powerful Tennis Star” or “Young Tennis Phenom”. The first three words of this headline are “Questioned About Body”.
I guess it’s not surprising. As I’ve reported before, even winning Wimbledon does not protect you from the need to be attractive to men. The top title in tennis does not forgive you for being less than supermodel gorgeous.
I hope that Taylor kicks some serious butt on the court tomorrow. I hope she plays really well and ultimately triumphs. I have to admit that I don’t hold out a lot of hope however, that Taylor Townsend will ever win victory over a public that is most interested in how she looks in her little tennis skirt.
Jeanette (AKA The Fat Chick)
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