Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Townsend, 17, courts greatness with 'unique' style

Taylor Townsend is built like Serena Williams and models her
game after Martina Navratilova's. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Tired of cookie-cutter pros?
   You know the ones. Tall and lean. No strategy. Just bash the ball and hope it goes in. No plan B if it doesn't.
    Then there's promising Taylor Townsend. Built like Serena Williams but models her game after Martina Navratilova's.
    Townsend, 17, of the Sacramento Capitals in World TeamTennis describes herself as "an aggressive, all-court player. I look to use my serve and forehand to come to the net. I use my variety to my advantage -- slices, drop shots, a lot of different lefty spins to make my opponent uncomfortable."
   Eugenie Bouchard, a 19-year-old Canadian who won the Wimbledon junior girls doubles title with Townsend last year, said Townsend's game is "really unique. She tries to mix it up and come to the net. She serves-and-volleys sometimes. It's refreshing to see that. She's really talented, and lefty as well -- that helps her a lot."
   In 2012, Townsend became the first American in 30 years to hold the year-end No. 1 world ranking in junior girls singles. She concluded her first WTT season tonight in a 22-18 loss to the Texas Wild in Dallas. Townsend helped Sacramento rank fourth in women's singles, third in women's doubles and fifth in mixed doubles in the eight-team league. In contrast, the Capitals rank last in men's singles and seventh in men's doubles.
   Townsend's life has almost paralleled Donald Young's, but U.S. fans hope Townsend's career turns out better. Both are supremely talented African-American left-handers who were born in Chicago, moved to Atlanta to train as youths and enjoyed stellar junior careers. Young's parents, Donald Young Sr. and Alona, coached Townsend in snowy Chicago and persuaded her family to follow theirs to warmer Atlanta.
   Donald Sr. and Alona taught Townsend to play an all-court game.
Townsend and Olga Govortsova of the Sacramento Capitals
watch a wheelchair exhibition during intermission of a World
TeamTennis match last week in Citrus Heights, Calif. Govort-
sova upset No. 2 seed Samantha Stosur on Tuesday in the
Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. Photo by Paul Bauman
   "We always did volleys, and I learned to come to the net," Townsend said. "That was first nature for me. Then I tried to look for some players that did that a lot, and that I really liked, and Navratilova was the one I thought did it the best."
   Townsend watched YouTube clips of Navratilova and adopted the left-handed legend as her idol.
   "I love the way that she played," Townsend said. "She was very crafty, and she was lefty. I like the way she was aggressive and coming forward. I try to emulate my net game and approaching game like hers."
   Donald Young, once regarded as the future of U.S. men's tennis, turned pro at 14 and debuted on the ATP World Tour at 15 in San Jose in 2005. But Young has failed to live up to expectations for various possible reasons. They include turning pro and accepting ATP wild cards too early, having insufficient size and power at 6 feet (1.83 meters) and 160 pounds (73 kilograms), relying on his talent and not working hard enough, being tutored by his parents instead of more accomplished coaches and having a low frustration level.
   It's much too early to say whether players such as Townsend and 18-year-olds Madison Keys, who's playing in this week's Bank of the West Classic at Stanford on the elite WTA tour, and Samantha Crawford will continue the United States' rich tradition in women's tennis. Early indications for Townsend are encouraging, but there are danger signs, too.
   At 15, Townsend teamed with Jessica Pegula, who's two years older, to reach the third round of women's doubles at the 2011 U.S. Open. In the 2012 Australian Open, Townsend became the first American to sweep the junior singles and doubles titles at a Grand Slam tournament since Lindsay Davenport 20 years earlier. Then came the 2012 Wimbledon and U.S. Open junior doubles crowns.
   Townsend turned pro in January. In her WTA main-draw debut at 16 in March at Indian Wells, she knocked off world No. 57 Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic before losing to former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in the second round.      
   Capitals coach Wayne Bryan said Townsend compares "pretty favorably" to Serena Williams, who ranks sixth all-time with 16 Grand Slam singles titles, at the same age.
   "Both athletic, both big, both strong," said Bryan, who has known Williams, 31, since she was 6. "Both hit a big ball, both have a lot of guts, both compete. Both are winners."
   Both are also stocky. Townsend, at 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters), is two inches (5 centimeters) shorter than Williams.
   When asked if Townsend is in good enough shape, Bryan said: "Nobody's in good enough shape. Lindsay Davenport early in her career wasn't in great shape. Serena wasn't in great shape from time to time. ... That will get better and better, just like her game will get better and better."
   Townsend's weight, though, has been an issue. USTA officials tried to discourage her from playing last year's U.S. Open junior tournament, declining to pick up her expenses, because they felt she was out of shape. After her mother paid her way, Townsend reached the quarterfinals in girls singles as the top seed before losing to No. 12 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia.  
   Townsend said the U.S. Open controversy "doesn't really matter anymore. It's in the past. I really don't want to answer any more questions about that. It's a whole new year, the U.S. Open is (four) weeks away, and that was a year ago.
   "I've done a lot more this year, and we should talk about things this year. We're all moving forward; we're all on the same page. I'm happy with them, and they're happy with me, so I can't complain." 
   After Ana Konjuh of Croatia beat Townsend in three sets in the semifinals of the prestigious Orange Bowl junior tournament in Plantation, Fla., last December, Konjuh criticized Townsend's fitness. The tournament was played on clay, not Townsend's best surface.
   "She's very talented and smart and plays great like that," Konjuh, who turned 15 a few days after the match, told the New York Times. "But if she wants to be a pro, she has to lose some weight. In the second set, I felt she couldn't run as much. If she gets fit, she can be a really, really good player."
   Capitals set dubious record -- Sacramento finished 5-9, the worst record in the team's 28-year history. They finished 6-8 in 1991, 2009 and 2010. Sacramento has won a record six WTT titles, most recently in 2007.
TEXAS 22, CAPITALS 18
In Dallas
   Men's doubles -- Mark Knowles and Sam Querrey (Capitals) def. Alex Bogomolov Jr. and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, 5-3.
   Women's doubles -- Megan Moulton-Levy and Taylor Townsend (Capitals) def. Tara Snyder and Eugenie Bouchard, 5-4.
   Men's singles -- Bogomolov (Wild) def. Querrey, 5-2.
   Women's singles -- Bouchard (Wild) def. Townsend, 5-4.
   Mixed doubles -- Qureshi and Bouchard (Wild) def. Knowles and Townsend, 5-2.

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