America's girls rally on at Wimbledon

With time on her side and Serena and Venus as mentors, Taylor Townsend is an American tennis player to watch out for.

    America's girls rally on at Wimbledon
    Can Taylor Townsend follow in the footsteps of idol Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens? [GALLO/GETTY]

    Americans have always been strong at tennis – until this year’s Wimbledon it seems.

    In the 1990s, kings of the court Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi ran rivals ragged. Those were heady days for American tennis fans, and judging from this year’s European dominance, days which may not be repeated any time soon. 

    When Sampras hung up his racket – the tennis baton was handed down to two sisters, who went by the name of Williams. And two brothers, who go by the name of Bryan.

    Doubles aside, it has been America’s women, not men, who have risen best to the challenge. In recent years, and when fit, Serena Williams has been in dominate form, although up-and-comer Sloane Stephens was the last American standing at WImbledon. Meanwhile none of the American men have made much of an impression.

    If the Wimbledon juniors semi-final line-up is anything to go by, this trend doesn’t look to be changing. Two American girls – Taylor Townsend and Louisa Chirico - have made the last four of a junior tournament which boasts Stefan Edburg, Roger Federer and Martina Hingis as former winners.

    Al Jazeera English caught up with Taylor Townsend after an impressive two-set victory over Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova.

    “The guys aren’t doing too badly. It is much harder on the men’s tour than it is for women. It is more physical, powerful and there is a thin line between the top 100 and top 50,” says Townsend.

    “I respect them and am really proud of them. I guess us girls have been taking advantage of our opportunities and our hard work is paying off. The guys hard work will pay off soon.”

    Less girl power - more reasoned argument - from Townsend then. Shame.

    Out on Court 14, the 17-year-old looked to be thoroughly enjoying her time on grass.   

    “I love the Wimbledon atmosphere. I love the grass, the tournament and everything around it. As the tournament goes on it gets more intense especially with Andy Murray still in it,” says Townsend, whose semi-final place is her best performance at the All Lawn Tennis Club.  

    'I love Serena' 

    There are no surprises when asked about her favourite players.

    “I love Serena, I think she is amazing. And I admire Martina Navratilova – I try to emulate her game as much as possible with the chipping, coming in to the net and volleying. But right now I’m in love with Serena.”

    The less we hear about that the better.

    It is easy to forget Townsend is only 17. Her days consist of fitting four hours of practice, two hours of fitness in with her school work. It is then up to her, her coach and mum to decide which tour matches she takes part it.

    I’ve spoken to Serena quite a lot and Venus too, they are great mentors. And Billie Jean-King, I love her, she’s so funny

    Taylor Townsend, Wimbledon juniors semi-finalist

    Does the pressure she sees on Andy Murray frighten her at all?

    “No, not really, it depends on how you look at it. Everyone deals with pressure differently. Me, I like the challenge, but I don’t focus on what the media says, I don’t read what people write about me or look at videos of me. I focus on myself.”

    Wise and mature indeed. But has being disciplined – eating right, sleeping right - come naturally too?

    “No not at all! It’s not easy, I still don’t do it all the time. I’m 17 – a kid – and sometimes you want to stay up late, talk to your friends, have an ice-cream. I have to make constant decisions every day as what is best for my career.”

    “Before Wimbledon I wanted to go paintballing but then I realised it could be a risk. I could get injured or it might aggravate a knee injury I was getting over. I’ve got to think of my long term goal and whether it will help me down the line.”

    Her goal - of course - is to be world number one and to win grand slams. A fairly familiar goal inside the walls of SW19.

    How far Townsend will go is anyone's guess, but she plays an aggressive and attractive game - and is full of personality on court. She is one of the easier characters to like.
    One thing that should help down the line is the wealth of knowledge at her disposal.

    “I’ve spoken to Serena quite a lot and Venus too, they are great mentors. And Billie Jean King, I love her, she’s so funny.”

    “It’s amazing the sources I have available. They know their stuff and it is such an honour to have them around and to have them guiding me about how to play on grass and clay, and dealing with pressures on and off the court.” 

    Makes it easier to keep on the straight and narrow, and avoid that ice-cream, I ask.

    “Exactly, I don’t want to mess that up!”


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