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An Interview With: Taylor Townsend

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Q. What felt bigger, playing Serena or Ashe?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I think it was both. It was just a lot of different emotions and feelings that were coming. It was hard to deal with. Like, I mean, it was just a first for a lot. You know what I'm saying? I was playing against one of my tennis idols, someone I've been watching for years and years. Playing in my home, the last slam of the year in front of an American crowd. She won this tournament last year. So it's just a lot of different things that were coming up in my head that I was trying to deal with. But at the same time I think that I dealt with it well and I just tried to go out on the court and really have a good time, embrace the moment, embrace the crowd and just use it. I did the best that I could. You know, so I walked off the court and I was smiling and just laughing because I was like, Okay, it's over now, and I had fun doing it.

Q. Were you at all disappointed when you saw the draw?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: No, not really. I think I just -- at first, I didn't believe it. I found out on Twitter. Okay, let me double-check. It was true. So then I was just immediately really excited. I just thought that it was such a huge opportunity. You know, what a way to play in the last slam of the year, to make my US Open debut. Like I wouldn't have done it any way else, you know?

Q. What do you think you learned from this match?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I think I learned that the game style that I want to play can hold up against the best players. And the reason I say that is because I was really committed to just moving forward. Whenever I got a short ball, whenever I saw a ball that I wanted to take and come in, I did it. And it worked. Even though I got passed, I didn't really care. Because I know with time that will get better. On top of that, with being nervous, I'm like, Oh, my God, she's going to smack the ball at me in my face, so get ready (laughter). It was really fun. I understood and saw that, first of all, like my serve can be a weapon. Secondly, the game style I want to play, it works. If I commit to it and believe in it 100%, then the sky's the limit. I saw that with the points that we were playing, the rallies from the back. I wasn't getting bullied around. I thought that I was, but I wasn't. It just kind of put a lot of things in perspective and really kind of helped me realize that I'm doing all the right things. I'm in a great space. I'm looking forward to the tournaments to come to build off that. I have doubles and mixed, so I can also work on some things in there.

Q. You mentioned that Serena is your idol. What is your relationship with her? You text with her. When did that start?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I watched her in Fed Cup when they had it in Delray Beach. They called me, and basically I wasn't hitting or anything, but I was able to come. I wore my Fed Cup jacket, sat on the side and watched her play. We had a rain delay, so I just started talking to her and Venus. We didn't even talk about tennis. We started talking about hair and nails, of course. That's really how we started to talk. Then in Charleston we sat down and talked for maybe an hour or so. Then we took selfies at the players party, so I think that's what really brought us together.

Q. You mentioned you idolized Serena. From the earliest times of your memory of Serena, what did you appreciate most about it and what have been your observations since of her importance as a player?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I think I appreciate the fact that, number one, she loves the game so much. I think for anyone who's watched her career progress, we have seen the ups and downs. She's come through a lot of adversity. I think the most roaring time for me when I was watching her play was when she won that Australian Open, when everyone was completely doubting her, no one said she would win, she was totally out of shape, she was this, that, everything in the book. She literally fought and she beat Sharapova 1-0, 2-0, something ridiculous. But I've never seen someone so intense and so, like, driven to win, you know? I gained so much respect for her. Moving forward, I've just seen her love the game even more. The older she gets, the more she enjoys being out there and playing. I think her perspective has changed, having fun with what she's doing. I think the wins are just making it even better.

Q. What have you learned from watching her all these years?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I think that I've learned, number one, that I can play until I'm 30-something years old. Number two, that just anything is possible. I mean, she's an African-American woman from Compton, California, who has won 17 or 16 Grand Slam titles. Like who would have thought? Anything is possible. She's paved the way for me and not only African-American girls but girls in general, people in general. Just has changed the game of tennis. I think I've just learned, like, from her story that anything is possible.

Q. What are some things you hope to learn from this experience of playing the No. 1 player in the world on Ashe?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, my hopes are basically just to take and assess the match. I really just went out and I tried to have fun. I wanted to enjoy the moment, enjoy the atmosphere, being out there. I was really, really nervous at first. But once I got out there and I walked out, I looked, I was like, Oh, my God. After that initial moment, I started hitting, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. So I think I actually did a lot of good things on the court, even though the score maybe didn't reflect it. Like I said, my game style and what I want to do, the player I want to be is something that's very positive and will hold up in the future. I just think it will take a lot more matches, for me to continue to work on that on a consistent basis for it to be maintained.

Q. Before the tournament Serena said you were the future of American tennis, referred to you as such. What does that feel like?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: It means a lot. I think coming from her, she's been a trailblazer for American tennis, I just think that it's an amazing feeling. It's very, very nice of her to say that just because obviously she's watched the Americans, has played against Americans. For her to say that is really, really nice. It reassures me I'm doing the right things, that I'm really on the right path. I'm confident in what I'm doing, you know. If we have to play again, I know I'll go out and try to have the same mentality, but, you know, I would know what to do, I'll know how to handle that moment a little bit better. I think it's amazing for her to say that. For me personally, I just have to keep doing what I am doing and really believing and sticking to it.

Q. What, if anything, surprised you about this match? She's standing across the net from you and you have to send the ball back?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: At first, as I said, I was really nervous because it was just such a big moment. Because it was Serena Williams, I think I was kind of blowing it out of proportion a lot. Really, my coaches really helped me with this. Just scale it back and say, Okay, you're playing on the same court. The court is the same dimensions that we play in D.C. as we play here. We're playing with the same balls. Just try to focus on the ball and not get caught up in what she's doing on the other side of the net. That really kind of helped me because I just tried to focus on the ball. It worked at the beginning, I have to say. But I just think I was just trying to really focus on that and stay within myself. But also, like I said, just enjoy it, smile. If I hit a shot to the fence, laugh at it. So that's what I did.

Q. What did you think when you heard about Catherine Bellis winning at 15 years old? What advice would you give to her?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I think it's amazing, just to have that opportunity so young. It seems as though from her results, from what I've heard, she's earned it. I heard she's a really good player and solid. My advice to her would be to enjoy everything, take it all in, but at the same time still compete and really enjoy what you're doing. No one expected her to win today. No one expects for her to win moving forward. She has absolutely no pressure. Just enjoy the moments, go out and play free. Like it was proven today, anything can happen. She beat Cibulkova, who made it to the finals of the Australian Open. She's 15 years old. She has her whole future ahead of her. Look at me talking like I'm 20, or no, like 30.

Q. Billie Jean King told me she was extremely pleased you were able to play World TeamTennis this summer. What did that experience do for your game?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: World TeamTennis was actually a huge eye-opener because I was able to spend a lot of time with Billie Jean. Getting to talk to her here and there at tournaments was one thing, but three weeks day in, day out. At the end of the three weeks I felt like I knew how her mind worked, which was very complex. It was an amazing experience. I think for my game, I learned a lot. I think mentally I developed a lot more than game-wise because I was able to surround myself with the best. I mean, I was with Marcelo Melo, who is No. 8 in doubles, Liezel who has been No. 1 for 199 weeks, has umpteen slams, and Billie Jean, who has 39 Grand Slam singles titles. Just to be able to have people around me like that, learn how their minds work, what they do, how they win, it was a great experience.

Q. Can you give an example?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, for Billie Jean, I kind of learned pressure is a privilege. She helped me understand because for someone looking on the outside, like playing five games, how can that possibly prepare you to play a tournament the next day, which is what I had to do. I had to play quallies in the Citi Open. It showed me that every point counted. There was a lot of pressure in those five games. You didn't want to let your team down, you didn't want to lose. Every point and every game counted, and it showed because some days we won by one point or one game. That helped me to translate on the court in the tournament, Okay, I have to play every single point intensely, every single point counts, every single point counts. That mentality shifted over.

Q. You talked about wanting to play until you're in your 30s. Serena talks about standing the test of time. You can have a great day, but can you have a great day over 15 years? What does that mean to you in terms of what it's going to take to do this for the next 13 years?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I think, number one, I have to continue to love what I'm doing, because if you don't love being out here, if you don't love the moments, if you don't love traveling, it's easy to want to do something else or not want to go to practice. I feel like out of all the things, I just have to continue to really, really love the game of tennis and understand why I love it, you know. Secondly, I just feel that it's a matter of staying healthy mentally and physically and emotionally. If I'm mentally healthy, then that allows me to be clear, to be able to be receptive to what my coaches are telling me, and be open so that we can have constructive dialogue, constructive criticism, whatever they want to call it, just really enjoy it, and be open to learn. As I get older and get more experience, to want to still learn. We can learn something every day, something new, or just reinforce an old lesson. But just to continue to learn and grow, I think that's really important for me to elongate my career.

Q. For a person of your age, do you see yourself as a role model for the younger generation coming up?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I think so. I've always said that I wanted to use my tennis to inspire and help people. This is a gift that I've been blessed with so I want to use it to the best of my ability, not only to entertain but to help people. Not everyone is blessed with a gift and is able to play, and for someone like me who's 18 years old, to be able to play on a stage like that -- you know, in 2007 I was texting my friend, I was in the nosebleeds watching Serena and Venus play a night watch. For me to now be down on that court and be able to play is amazing. So I just think that, yes, I'm an inspiration and a role model and I want to continue to do that as I progress in the pros and get better just because if we have these gifts and talents, we don't use it and help, try to make a difference, then it really doesn't matter.

Q. Are you familiar with Althea Gibson? It was her birthday yesterday?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: It was her birthday yesterday? That's cool. I'm not really familiar. I know her, of her history. I actually learned a lot more about her from Zina because Zina practiced with her. She said she died when she practiced with her. It's like the most intense thing she's done. I feel like I know her through Zina's stories but I really don't.

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