This week the player that turned heads at the French Open is not Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, it’s not even Serena Williams who suffered the worst loss of her Grand Slam career in the second round. No the player that turned heads was an 18 year old American woman Taylor Townsend. Townsend is the 2012 junior girls Australian Open champion and is the first American to be the year end junior girl’s number one since 1982. She made her professional grand slam debut in Paris this week making it to the third round before going down in straight sets to Carla Suarez Navarro. This young woman’s game and poise made her the talk of the tournament with players and fans alike. American fans watched her with keen interest wondering is she the successor to the Williams sisters? Is she the one who will become the next great American woman tennis player? While Taylor looks like a promising candidate to fill this role with a strong game plan and good strokes her weight could prove problematic as it will put a good deal of strain on her body. Taylor is the most promising American woman tennis player in some time but to know if she is going to be great we must watch her in the coming months to see if she plays as well as she did in Paris.
Taylor turned heads in Paris with an old fashioned serve and volley game. She uses this approach to charge the net, get her opponent out of position, and then hit balls past them at angles most players have never seen. In her second round match against Alize Cornet she hit the ball past Cornet 43 times. She is clearly a strategist on the court which bodes well for chances of long term success. She is the type of player other players notice, seventh seeded Andy Murray said about her, “I love the way she plays. This is a player who has a lot of talent. A talent that is rarely seen, either in men or in women”. When a seasoned veteran on the tour offers that kind of praise to a young woman making her Grand Slam debut fans know this is someone they should be watching.
In the lead up to and the French Open itself Taylor has shown not only a strong game plan but amazing composure. To get to the open Taylor won the 2014 Har-Tru USTA Pro Circuit Wild Card Challenge. At Roland Garros Taylor had shown an ability to handle pressure and overcome adversity. Down 5-1 in the first set of her opening match against fellow American Vania King she pulled herself together and won 6 straight games to take the set 7-5 then went on to take the second set and the consequently the match 6-1. In her second match against Frenchwoman Alize Cornet she had to deal with a very pro French crowd who did the wave and cheered loudly in support of their countrywoman. Taylor won the first set tightened in the second before pulling herself together and winning the third set and the match. However, Taylor is still a kid and it showed when it came time to face Carla Suarez Navarro. Bolstered by her success in her first two matches according to her coach Zina Garrison, Taylor was to calm before the match and not feeling enough pressure. As a result of her over confidence and calm Taylor went for too much at big moments and was only able to convert one of her six break chances. Hopefully Taylor will take a lesson from this and next time feel the pressure a bit more and use as a means to slow down and not go for too much.
Taylor clearly possesses the building blocks of long term success so what is the biggest hurdle standing in her way, her weight. Now I am not the USTA who in 2012 threatened to cut her funding, “until she makes sufficient progress in one area: slimming down and getting into better shape.” However I am someone who speaks from experience, having just lost a good deal of weight myself. As an overweight person I worked out regularly and like Taylor was in good physical shape and defensive about my weight. I was able to run and move but found I got tired and winded easily not to mention suffered a series of injuries. Once I lost the weight I was surprised to find how freely I was able to move and how much more endurance I possessed and I was not playing professional tennis. Taylor is able to stay at the weight she is at now because she isn’t playing a full schedule and has time to recover in between tournaments. However, once she plays a full schedule she will discover that the heavier her body is the worse the wear and tear on it will be. However, unlike most people I do not think the way to get her into better shape is criticize her, this never works. When you have your weight criticized you simply get defensive about and try harder to prove you are fine and in good shape at your current weight. Let Taylor discover how tough professional tennis is on the body and she will lose the weight. I hope she realizes it before she seriously injures herself.
All in all Taylor Townsend is a young woman with a lot of promise. She has the talent, composure, and game to become a great player. Will she be the next great American player? There is no way to know but I think she has a better shot at it than any other woman I have seen in recent years. I and other American fans hope to be watching Taylor succeed in the coming years.