Townsend, 18, got much-deserved attention for her stunning Grand Slam debut Wednesday. The 205th-ranked wild card upset No. 20 seed Alize Cornet of France, making her the youngest American to reach the third round since 2003. She also put those who have complained in the past about her weight in their place.
“Sky’s the limit,” a jubilant Townsend said after doing her victory dance.
It’s that kind of attitude that helped her rise above her problems in 2012, when she became embroiled in controversy over what the United States Tennis Association termed her “physical condition”—in other words, her weight. Despite the fact that the lefty won the Australian Open juniors at 15, the USTA tried to stop her from competing at the U.S. Open, saying it would not restore its funding until the then-top-ranked junior in the world lost weight, forcing her mother, Sheila, to cover travel expenses.
At the time, Serena Williams, who has also been criticized for her weight, said, “For a female, particularly, in the United States, in particular, and African-American, to have to deal with that is unnecessary. Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything. I think you can see that more than anywhere on the tennis tour.”
Instead of giving up, Townsend gave up on her USTA coaches, partnering with Zina Garrison, a former Wimbledon runner-up, and Kamau Murray, a tennis coach she has known since she was 6. Garrison said the experience only made the teen stronger: “The biggest thing was just getting her to understand that she’s fine. Everybody doesn’t have the same shape of our bodies. She’s very clear on that now.”