Taylor Townsend is a 16-year-old tennis phenom. She’s the No. 1 ranked girls junior and won the Australian Open juniors tournament earlier this year.
But according to The Wall Street Journal, the USTA is not impressed. Townsend is a product of the USTA’s relatively new tennis-development program and they declined to pay her way to the U.S. Open because she was … too big. So her mother ponied up the expenses instead and here she is, ripping her way through the U.S. Open juniors tournament.
The Journal’s Tom Perrotta reports:
But unbeknownst to everyone outside her inner circle, the USTA wasn’t happy to see Townsend in New York. 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.”
McEnroe wants to send a big and loud message—even the No. 1 player doesn’t get to skate by our guidelines—but it’s becomes tricker when you realize on both the men’s and women’s side the pipeline remains dry for young American talent. So now you have McEnroe and the rest of the USTA rooting against a player because the farther she goes, the bigger a public-relations disaster this becomes. And it’s made even worse because even if the USTA wants to talk about fitness, the message becomes: We are publicly judging your body.
And, as Perrotta points out, sometimes it’s OK to be big. Lots of great tennis players have made that work for themselves.
A quick glance around the U.S. Open reveals a fair number of less-chiseled players, such as Marion Bartoli and Stanislas Wawrinka, who both reached the tournament’s second week.
On the women’s side, former U.S. star Lindsay Davenport became No. 1 while ranking among the largest players on the women’s tour at 6-foot-2 and about 175 pounds. And in 2007, Serena Williams won the Australian Open singles title while being in what many experts consider the worst shape of her career.
“You have to be fit underneath, I don’t think you necessarily have to look ripped,” said former No. 1 Mats Wilander. “Smart players can get away with being a little tired.”