Taylor Townsend comes full circle after ‘working her ass off’, but fat and nasty headlines triumph over truth

Shahida Jacobs
Patrick McEnroe and US Open women's doubles runners-up Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend

One of Tennis365’s most-read stories the past few months has been about former American protégé Taylor Townsend’s comeback to competitive tennis following the birth of her son.

It is an uplifting story and one that deserves to be heard as it will and should inspire other women.

But if we are honest with ourselves, had we opted for the headline “Taylor Townsend rises back to the top after giving birth” it would have been lost in the myriad of articles about Carlos Alcaraz, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and/or Rafael Nadal.

Instead we used the headline: “Taylor Townsend: ‘I was fat, and I was black, so they took away my dream'” and it outperformed stories about the above-mentioned players.

The piece centred around Townsend’s powerful 2021 The Players’ Tribune column on how her tennis dream was nearly snatched away from her by United States Tennis Association (USTA) officials because they considered her to be too “fat”.

The standout paragraph read: “They didn’t just alienate me for not fitting the ‘mould’ of what a tennis player should look like – they punished me. They took away something I’d earned. I was fat, and I was black, so they took away my dream. Or at least they tried.”

The piece went live on the second Monday of the US Open with Townsend still competing in the doubles alongside Caty McNally and they went on to finish runners-up.

But Townsend’s story started a decade earlier as big things were predicted when she rose through the ranks as a junior and she was expected to compete at the 2012 US Open – either through a wildcard main draw entry from organisers or qualifying.

But her requests were turned down even though she was the top-ranked junior and in the end she played in the girls’ tournament, exiting in the quarter-finals with her mother footing the bill for her trip to New York.

Patrick McEnroe was the USTA player development head at the time and ESPN reported that “there had been a ‘miscommunication’ over expenses – the association would reimburse Townsend”.

He added that the reason for Townsend’s omission from the wildcards was in her best interest and “it has nothing to do with weight, nothing to do with body type” adding that “it has to do with overall fitness, overall what her game is”.

Townsend was 16 at the time and she admitted that “I was actually very upset. I cried. I was actually devastated” after receiving the news.

Despite that devastating setback, Townsend started her journey in the professional world and by 2018 she reached a career-high of No 61.

She was still inside the top 100 when she announced in 2020 that she was pregnant and gave birth to her son Adyn Aubrey on March 14 the following year.

A year later she is on the rise again after “working her ass off”, playing several ITF tournaments and she made her top-level return at Roland Garros after using her protected ranking, falling in the first round in the singles.

But she reached the semi-finals of the French Open doubles alongside fellow American Madison Keys, quite impressive for someone who had just made her return.

She played three more top-level single events before the US Open and had some decent results, but lost in the first round at Flushing Meadows.

But it was in the doubles where she would make her mark as she reached the final alongside McNally and they were one serve away from victory before going down 3–6, 7–5, 6–1 against Czech duo Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova.

And it was a full circle moment for Townsend as Patrick McEnroe conducted the post-match presentation ceremony.

“I’ve earned my way to be here and everyone can see that,” she said during the interview.

Social media was quick to wonder if it was a snide remark after everything she went through following the 2012 incident.

But during the post-match press conference, the 26-year-old insisted there was no deeper significance behind her comment.

“No, it’s not literally earn my way to be here. I wasn’t given, you know, anything. I really had to work my ass off to get here and to be able to play at this level,” she said.

“That’s just point-blank, period. I have never been able to say that with this conviction ever in my career. It gives me the confidence to be able to know I can be out here with anybody.

“To be able to do it so soon within a year, like, that just gives me so much more confidence to know like where I can go as I continue to build, as I continue to get more matches.

“It’s no hidden meaning, like I meant what I said, I said what I meant. You know, that’s it. People can read into it however they want, but, you know, it’s no accident that I’m here.”

It would have been easy for Townsend to just accept her fate after 2012 and give up on her tennis dream, but she didn’t. And she again could have packed her tennis equipment away for good after giving birth in 2021, but again she didn’t.

“This journey that I have been on has been amazing, honestly. I’m not going to say that I expected to be out on that stage this quickly. I envisioned it. I saw it. But to actually see it in your mind and for it to come true are two different things,” she said.

“Yeah, it’s amazing to have my son to be here with me and to be able to challenge myself, to juggle that life of being a mom while playing in a slam, like it was a challenge and I was a little bit nervous, you know, to kind of take that on, but it’s been awesome, and I really enjoy myself out here.

“You know, honestly, I’m just super motivated. I know that’s really just shown me that I can do it like anything, even if it feels impossible at the time, like I can do it. That’s kind of the space that I’m in right now.

“You know, I’m just super motivated to continue on and show my son, like, we were so close, like, you know, when you look back, you’re so close, it didn’t happen this time, but that doesn’t mean that you stop. So just try to extract the lessons out of this and move on and kind of look at the bigger picture.”

Townsend has risen back to No 190 in the singles of the WTA Rankings on the back of her recent results and she is No 33 in the doubles.

Her story is a remarkable one that not too many would have read if it wasn’t for the controversial headline, but it was one that deserves to be listened to and for now we will take that.