The XX Factor

This Is the Young Tennis Player That the USTA Considers Too Fat to Support

USTA, are you serious? 

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The United States Tennis Association has served up the outrage of the day, and it’s a doozy. Meet Taylor Townsend, the 16-year-old star from Chicago who is currently the No. 1 junior girls player in the world. She won the junior Australian Open in January and is blazing her way through the U.S. Open teen tournament. If you take a look at her picture, you might flash back to Serena Williams circa 1999: muscled, powerful and young. You might think Lindsay Davenport, all 6-plus feet and 175 pounds of her, knocking forehands into the back of the court. What you won’t think, unless you happen to be a benighted USTA official, is that she’s a fatso who deserves to be denied funding until she slims down.

Townsend attends a four-year, USTA-sponsored tennis academy in Boca Raton, Fla., which should put the organization on the hook for her coaching and tournament fees. But here’s how Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA’s player development program, glosses his decision not to pay her way into the U.S. Open (forcing her mother to swallow the costs): “We have one goal in mind: For [Townsend] to be playing in [Arthur Ashe Stadium] in the main draw and competing for major titles when it’s time. That’s how we make every decision, based on that.”

Yes. All in the fullness of time, or should I say gauntness? As one Slate colleague observed, if McEnroe had added that it would be Townsend’s “time” when she looked more like Anna Kournikova, he could have saved everyone an additional eye roll. It defies reason that the USTA is purely motivated by questions of health, given the teenage phenom’s sterling results. You simply do not beat the top junior players in the world if you aren’t in great shape. The USTA has fallen prey to the same sexism that plagued the Women’s Tennis Association when it tried to crack down on women grunting mid-shot: an expectation that lady sports be aesthetically pleasing. What’s more, as Deadspin notes, they’ve put themselves in the awkward position of hoping a young talent fizzles out because of the way they’d look if she goes too far without their support.

Maybe women’s tennis has so soaked up so much publicity from its blond bombshells—Azarenka, Sharapova, Kournikova—that those in charge have somehow mistaken willowy good looks for skill. If anything, beauty can be an albatross on the women’s tour. Kournikova, for instance, had been a brilliant junior player, but she lost focus when she felt she could stop trying and coast on ad and modeling gigs.

Meanwhile, Townsend’s bill of health is apparently not perfect: She was diagnosed with low iron back in August. I hope she eats a lot of steak.