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Eighteen-year-old American Taylor Townsend is out of the French Open, after she was defeated today by Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.
That wasn’t much of a surprise, but what is a surprise is how far Townsend went.
She was the youngest American to make it to the third round in more than 10 years. And she was only ranked 205. She’s African-American, a lefty — and there’s a back story about her weight that a lot of people are looking at.
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated joined Here & Now’s Robin Young from the tournament to discuss the unlikely journey of Taylor Townsend. Not surprisingly, there was some disappointment there after her defeat, he said, but the enthusiasm over Townsend’s rising star is infectious.
“There was, indeed, a lot of excitement,” he said. “She plays like no one else, she looks like no one else, she’s very charming, and she basically just sort of lost to an adult today, an experienced player. She made a number of tactical errors, and her opponent didn’t give her much breathing room. But we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of her, especially at Wimbledon.”
Townsend also no doubt proved many of her detractors wrong today, who have criticized her for being full-figured. When she was 16 and the number-one female junior player in the country, the U.S. Tennis Association refused to fund her trip to the 2012 Girls Open unless she “got in better shape,” which was largely interpreted as lose weight.
“This is two years ago and we’re still talking about it,” Wertheim said. “Every athlete has their own playing weight. Does she look like Maria Sharapova? No, but she sure moves around the court just fine. I mean, when she lost today, it was not because of fitness or moving. She was not huffing and puffing.”
At the end of the day, Wertheim said, Townsend got the last laugh — and her future in tennis looks bright.
“She is delightful,” he said. “She is charming and well spoken, and she has addressed this issue very maturely and sensibly.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW. And spoiler alert, don't listen for the next four minutes if you don't want to hear what happened in today's French Open match between the American Taylor Townsend and Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro. Here it is.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Carla Suarez Navarro moves into the fourth round with a straight set victory over Taylor Townsend - 6-2, 6-2.
YOUNG: OK, Townsend lost. But what's amazing is how far she went. The African-American was only ranked 205th. She's just 18, and she came with a back story about her weight. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated is there. Jon, so much American hope going into today's match.
JON WERTHEIM: Yeah, that match today was, honestly, a bit of a letdown. There was indeed so much excitement. She plays like no one else. She looks like no one else. She's very charming.
And she basically just sort of lost to an adult today, an experienced player. She made a number of tactical errors. I mean, her opponent didn't give her much breathing room. But we're going to be seeing a lot more of her, especially at Wimbledon.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, let's just talk about the story of her physique. Two years ago, when she was 16, ranked number one in the juniors. The USTA refused to finance her travel expenses to the 2012 Girls Open until she got into better shape.
Now, everyone interpreted that as until she lost some weight. She is a large girl. And at the time, that was - she says she was pretty shocked by that. She's talked about it since. What's the feeling there about that decision by the USTA?
WERTHEIM: I think this was really a clumsily handled decision. This was two years ago, and we're still talking about it. She was the number one junior. And I think every athlete has their own playing weight.
Does she look like Maria Sharapova? No, but she sure moves around the court just fine. I mean, when she lost today, it was not because of fitness or moving. She was not huffing and puffing.
And the USTA framed this as a health and fitness issue and not as a weight or appearance issue. And I don't think this was about aesthetics. But it still was very clumsily handled.
And I think, you know, if we're being honest, we're talking about a 16-year-old of a certain ethnicity, of a female gender. And to just sort of flatly say if you don't lose weight, you're not playing is more than a little insensitive. And the USTA - two years later, they still have egg on their face over this.
YOUNG: Especially since what she did was pay her own way. And here she is at the French Open. And just a little more on that. She was asked by CNN, after her wins this week - she was asked about that time and what had happened. Let's listen.
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TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I was really upset. And I cried. And I just didn't know what was happening. But I got myself together, and I was like, I'm playing.
YOUNG: Jon, she pointed to Serena Williams who is also a large woman, not a petite woman but, you know, solid muscle, in terrific shape. But does this happen within the tennis world? Do people talk to tennis players and say you have to get in better shape?
WERTHEIM: Yeah, we do this with sports all the time. I mean, take a sport, whether it's a jockey or whether it's in lineman. But Taylor Townsend won her second round match in three sets, two and a half hours, and she was the one who prevailed in the end. So I think that answers a lot of questions about fitness and stamina.
YOUNG: Well, she lights up the court with that smile and that little dance she does at the end.
WERTHEIM: She is delightful. She's charming and well spoken. And she's addressed this issue very maturely and sensibly. And I do think that's part of this as well. So it's very easy to sympathize with her because she's a lovely person.
YOUNG: Well, just briefly, the rest of the women's draw is - it's just really quite something this year. Serena and Venus Williams both out, as is China's Li Na. Just your thoughts on the field.
WERTHEIM: For the first time ever, the top three seeds are out by the end of the third round, and it's a wide-open field. Maria Sharapova is probably the favorite. She won this event two years ago. But honestly, who knows. You really have a feeling this is trending toward a new face.
YOUNG: Yeah. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated at the French Open. Thanks so much.
WERTHEIM: Thanks, Robin. Anytime.
YOUNG: And you are listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.