Taylor Townsend is a young tennis star on the verge of going pro, but the phenom is unfortunately facing some of the same challenges as trailblazers like Serena Williams. The problem? The 16-year-old African-American athlete is shaped like her champion predecessors Williams and Lindsay Davenport, and her frame has made some in and out of the sport call her fitness into question, according to the New York Times.
Because she is black and has a sturdy 5-foot-6 physique and strong ground strokes, Townsend often draws comparisons to Serena Williams, a 15-time major singles champion. Townsend said she was flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as one of the greatest players in the game's history. But occasionally, the surface comparisons cut deep.
In the Orange Bowl doubles final, Townsend and her partner, Gabrielle Andrews, powered to victory despite the heckling of an elderly man who zeroed in on her race and her baby fat. For all Townsend's success this year, her appearance was what thrust her into the spotlight at the United States Open, the year's final major. The U.S.T.A., which oversees her training, tried to discourage her from playing in the Open, declining to pick up her expenses because she was not in peak shape.
Her mother paid her way, and when Townsend's plight became public, several prominent women in the sport rushed to her defense, including Williams and Lindsay Davenport, another sturdily built former world No. 1 whose fitness was questioned early in her career.
Describing the controversy as unnecessary, Williams said, "Women athletes come in all different sizes and shapes and colors and everything."
Read more at the New York Times.