Taylor Townsend: “Tennis means the world to me. It's helped me through a lot of situations, tough times, good times, bad times” - UBITENNIS
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Taylor Townsend: “Tennis means the world to me. It's helped me through a lot of situations, tough times, good times, bad times”

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TENNIS 2014 ROLAND GARROS – 30th of May 2014. C. Suarez-Navarro d. T. Townsend 6-2, 6-2. An interview with Taylor Townsend

 

Q. How would you reflect on your week in Paris?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I think it was an amazing week. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Well, a win would have been better.

But I really learned a lot this week. I’m so happy and so fortunate that I had this opportunity, and I earned this opportunity.

I’m just looking to go to the next tournament, learn from my mistakes here. And I’m excited to get on the grass.

 

Q. Could you talk about just over the past months, over the past year or so, how your game has improved. You seem to have really stepped up.

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I have just been working a lot on my mental game. I haven’t changed much in my game at all.

I have just really learned how to play the game. I have become more of a student of the game, and my coaches have really helped me understand about the game of tennis.

Having Zina in my corner really has helped me a lot, because she has played and done all of this. So it’s a lot easier for me to kind of listen and grasp it, because she’s done this.

I mean, I’m just learning how to be a student of the game and learning how to play and embracing my strengths and trying to strengthen my weaknesses.

 

Q. First Grand Slam main draw of your life. Sum it up for us. Most fun you’ve ever had? Give us something about it.

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Yeah, it’s the most fun I’ve had (smiling).

I have had a really good time just embracing the moments and, you know, the pressure and everything. It’s awesome. I really had a great time and experiencing this. And, I mean, I couldn’t asked for a better first Grand Slam and a better opportunity to show the world what I can do.

So, I mean, I have had a great time and I’m really looking forward to the next couple of tournaments.

 

Q. Even some of the French fans were chanting your name. Did you hear that? What do you think about that? What’s it like being on a bigger stage like that?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, it’s nice now that people are cheering my name, because they were cheering the other girl’s name (laughter).

It was nice to have that support, especially here. The people are so supportive, and I really have had a great time playing in front of them.

I did realize that I do like big stages, I like big courts, I like playing in front of a lot of people, so that’s good.

But I really enjoyed it. I’m really glad the people embraced me and were cheering for me today.

 

Q. You mentioned a few times this week about how you learned to believe in yourself and your talents and whatever. Had you gone through a period where you were doubting that a little bit or wondering whether you turned pro too soon? You seem very into that point.

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I wouldn’t say I was doubting I was turning pro too early. I mean, I think I did it at the perfect time.

But like anything, going from one level to the next is not an easy task at all. There are a lot of things I had to learn. There are a lot of things I had to learn about myself. There were a lot of things I had to learn about the game that I didn’t know and that I wouldn’t have known, just because I hadn’t been playing pro tournaments and I hadn’t been on the tour and I hadn’t played against people like this and on this level.

So it was new. But there was a point in time    I mean, I just really had to kind of learn about my game and how to work it and how to use it and play on this level, because it’s totally different than juniors. So I think that that was    not so much doubting myself, but just believing in what I could do and that I can compete on this level.

 

Q. Can you tell us something about your background? What tennis means for you in your life? How difficult maybe was it to get to this level where you are now and how good it is to be here now?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Yeah. Tennis means the world to me. I mean, it’s helped me through a lot of situations, tough times, good times, bad times in my life. But tennis has always kind of been my backboard. That has really just been there. I can just go play and spend hours on the court and do whatever.

But, I mean, getting here, it’s been a long road. It’s been a tough road. But I have learned a lot about myself, and, I mean, as a person. That’s kind of translated on the court and learned about myself both as a person and a player.

I really embrace that. It means the world to me to be here, just the fact that I said that it feels different, that I earned the right to be here. I earned the wildcard through my hard work and through my sweat and, you know, ups and downs in the matches. And I was faced two match points down in the semifinals I had to win that match in order to get the wildcard.

Just tons of things going through my head there. It’s a different level. But I had to do it.

It means the world for me to be here, and to have this opportunity and capitalize on it, and I’m looking forward to it continuing in the future, and hopefully I can keep this going.

 

Q. You mentioned the expenses. Just how expensive is it coming up from through the junior ranks? What’s it like when you actually begin to make money to help pay off that?

TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, it’s tough. I knew the pro circuit would be more expensive just because, you know, you have to travel. I mean, tennis is an expensive sport. You have to travel, you have to get racquets, you have equipment, you have a lot of things that you have to upkeep.

Well, also, you have to get to the tournaments, you have to get food. There are just a lot of expenses that you have.

That’s been since we have been playing National Open, I know it’s a different level, but it’s still expensive for anybody.

When I first started making money, I was like, Whoa, that’s mine? I was excited. My mom was like, No, no, no, (laughter).

But it was interesting, but, I mean, I’m really glad that I’m able to kind of learn about all of this stuff. And also, with just being young and making my own money, it’s like something you have to grasp, but at the same time, it’s through my hard work. So it’s like, Taylor, you earned this.

Embrace it but at the same time be smart with it and understand that a lot of it is going back into your tennis, so you can continue to travel and do the things that you need to do to make it to where you want to go so I can make more money.

Editorial

EXCLUSIVE: How The ATP Plans To Make The Tour More Welcoming For LGBT Players

The governing body of men’s tennis has received praise for taking a proactive approach to the topic with the help of a leading LGBTQ+ organisation and a top research university.

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Guido Pella during a Men's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 1, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Manuela Davies/USTA)

During the first week of the US Open, there was an abundance of rainbow-theme flags and wristbands worn by both players and fans to mark the tournament’s first-ever Open Pride Day.

 

The event was part of the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion strategic platform which aims to make tennis more inclusive. Unlike the women’s game, there are no openly LGBTQ+ players on the men’s Tour and there have been few historically, even though various players have spoken of their support for anybody on the Tour who decides to come out. Including Stefanos Tsitsipas and newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who were questioned about the topic following their second round matches. Meanwhile, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime revealed that there is an ongoing survey related to LGBTQ+ issues being conducted by the ATP.

“Recently I’ve started doing a survey inside the ATP about the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “It’s important these days to be aware of that and to be open-minded and the ATP needs to do that, in today’s time it’s needed.

“The reason we don’t have openly gay players on the ATP Tour, I’m not sure of the reason, but I feel me, as a player, it would be very open, very welcome. Statistically, there should be some, but for now there’s not.”

In response to Auger-Aliassime’s comment, UbiTennis looked into the work currently being done by the ATP alongside two other parties. Their decision to venture into LGBTQ+ representation on the Tour is part of their recent commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of their players and staff. Last year, in May, they formed partnerships with Headspace and Sporting Chance.  

The survey currently being conducted by the ATP started after the governing body of men’s tennis reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Denison was the lead author of the Out on the Fields study, the first international study on homophobia in sport and the largest conducted to date.

“I have been personally impressed with the initiative of the ATP and their desire to find ways to mitigate the broad impact of homophobic behaviour (in particular), not only on gay people, but on all players.” He told UbiTennis during an email exchange.

“We know of no other sporting governing body in the world that has been proactive on LGBTQ+ issues, and has taken a strong focus on engaging with both the LGBTQ+ community and scientists to find solutions.”

Denison says the norm has been for sports bodies to address this issue after they have been either pressured to do so or if the LGBTQ+ community got the ball rolling themselves. Incredibly, research conducted as part of the Out On The Fields initiative documented 30 separate studies which found sports organisations ignored discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people in sport.

Monash University has supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they are using to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome. The methodology is similar to a study Denison conducted in 2020 that focused specifically on the team sports rugby union and ice hockey.  

“We suspect that tennis isn’t inherently more homophobic than other sports, or traditionally male settings. Instead, there is a disconnect between people’s attitudes towards gay people (e.g. the recent pro-gay comments by top players) and their behaviour, specifically their use of homophobic banter and jokes,” said Denison.

“This behaviour, which is largely habitual, creates a hostile climate for young gay/bi people who drop out or hide their sexuality. This means gay/bi players are invisible in youth tennis and leads to the downstream problem of no professionals. The banter/jokes continue because people think it is harmless.”

The hope is that players will also agree to be interviewed by the researchers for them to get a better understanding. All of the results will then be used by Pride Sports and Monash University to recommend evidence-based solutions. It is unclear as to how long the study will take or when the findings will be ready. 

Former top 100 player Brian Vahaly is one of the few players to have been both openly gay and played at the highest level of the men’s game. However, he didn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality until after retiring from the sport at age 27. Speaking to UbiTennis earlier this year, Vahaly shed light on the potential barriers for gay players.

There were a lot of homophobic jokes made on Tour. It’s a very masculine and competitive environment,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of gay representation, except for the women’s Tour. With me not having the personality of an outspoken advocate (for LGBTQ+ issues), certainly not in my twenties, I needed some time to understand myself. To me, in tennis I didn’t feel like there was anybody to talk to or anybody that was going through anything similar.”

The ATP has spoken with Vahaly about their initiative and he has become ‘quite involved.’ Through their discussions, he got acquainted with Denison for the first time. As a professional, Vahaly peaked at a ranking high of 64th in the world and won five Challenger titles. After retiring from the Tour, he has served on the USTA’s board of directors since 2013. 

“I am happy to hear that the ATP is finally taking action to address this issue.  I’m impressed they are taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to make a meaningful difference here,” he told UbiTennis. 

The ATP aims to make the men’s Tour more welcoming to potential LGTBQ+ athletes playing either now or in the future. For those who question if such an initiative is important in 2021, you only have to look at the younger demographic.

Sportsnet quoted CDC data from 2019 which showed that 26% of American LGBTQ+ teenagers aged 16 or 17 has contemplated suicide, five times more than those who identify as straight (5%). Among those teenagers who heard homophobic terms, 33% self-harmed and an additional 40% considered doing so.

More than 2000 players around the world currently have an ATP ranking.

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2020 Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic on the heat and the new scheduling: “I’m glad they listened to us”

Speaking to Ubitennis, the world number one describes the work that he, Medvedev and Zverev (among others) have done to obtain better playing conditions

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So far, the tennis tournament at the 2020 Olympics has made headlines less for the match-play than for the difficult conditions in which it has been taking place due to the heat and the humidity. In the women’s draw, for instance, four players have been forced to retire during their matches: the last one has been particularly shocking, as Paula Badosa was taken off-court on a wheelchair after collapsing late in the first set of her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova. Luckily, these issues appear to have finally caught the attention of the International Tennis Federation: starting tomorrow, no match will be played before 3pm (7am in the UK).

 

Part of the credit for this (still belated) decision goes to the lobbying and the complaints of the players, as world N.1 Novak Djokovic explained while speaking to Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta in Tokyo: “I’m glad the decision was made to reschedule tomorrow’s opening matches at 3pm. Today we went to speak to the supervisor – when I say ‘we’ I mean myself, Medvedev, and Zverev, along with the team captains. I have spoken to Khachanov and Carreno Busta as well, so the majority of the players who will feature in the quarter finals was of the same opinion.

“Of course I would have wished for this decision to be made a few days ago, but it’s still a good thing,” he added. “Nobody wants to witness incidents like the one that occurred to Badosa.

“The conditions are really brutal. Some people might think that we are just complaining, but all resistance sports (and tennis should be included among them) are taking place later in the day because the combination between the heat and the humidity is really terrible.”

He then concluded: “I’ve been a professional tennis player for almost 20 years and I’ve never experienced such hard conditions for so many consecutive days. It may have have happened once or twice in Miami or New York, but just for one day, whereas in Tokyo the situation is like this every day. I think that this decision will benefit the fans as well, because playing later allows us to play our best – these conditions were just draining for us.”

Article by Lorenzo Colle; translated by Tommaso Villa

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Interviews

Mats Wilander Exclusive: Matteo Berrettini Will Win A Grand Slam

UbiTennis founder Ubaldo Scanagatta speaks to the former world No.1 about Berrettini’s historic win at Wimbledon.

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Matteo Berrettini (ITA) celebrates as he beats Hubert Hurkacz (POL) in the semi-final of the Gentlemen's Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 11 Friday 09/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Florian Eisele

Swedish tennis great Mats Wilander has praised Matteo Berrettini for his run to the Wimbledon Final during a one-to-one interview with UbiTennis.

 

25-year-old Berrettini has become the first Italian man in history to reach the final of the Grand Slam after beating Hubert Hurkacz 6-3, 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-4. Throughout the clash he was impressive behind his serve where he fired 22 aces and won 86% of his service points. This year he is unbeaten on the grass and is currently on a 10-match winning streak following his triumph at Queen’s last month.

“Breaking the first game of the fourth set is to me the sign that we all look for in players. Whatever happens in the third (set) should not matter and he came straight back,”Wilander tells UbiTennis.
“That’s my indication that he will be one of the best players in the world. He will win a Grand Slam one hundred percent, for sure, if he stays healthy.”

Wilander’s bold prediction centres around Berrettini’s game on both grass and hardcourt. However, he is less optimistic about his chances on the clay at present until his backhand becomes more powerful.

As to why the former world No.1 has so much confidence in Italy’s top player, he says it is his ability to not expose his weaknesses during matches. Drawing parallels between him and Roger Federer. The player Berrettini comprehensively beat in straight sets earlier in the week.

He knows how to hide his weakness and most great players know how to hide their weaknesses. Roger Federer is the perfect example. His backhand compared to the serve and the forehand. He stays alive with the slice and he comes over (to the net) sometimes when he has to,” he said.
“I think Matteo has figured out that he can stay alive with the slice. But the difference is that he is willing to slice and come in. He’s also double the size of Federer at the net so it is difficult to pass him.”

It wasn’t until the age of eight when Berrettini started to focus more on tennis after being asked by his younger brother to play more. As a professional he has won five ATP titles since 2018 and is the highest ranked ATP player from his country since Corrado Barazzutti back in 1978. He is coached by Vincenzo Santopadre, Marco Gulisano and Umberto Rianna.

“I would be so encouraged if I was coaching him. For the coach it must be like oh my god we are looking at a player who has (good use of his) hands and hides his weakness though the rest of his game,” the seven-time Grand Slam champion commented.
“I don’t why it has taken him a bit longer (to break through). I know he started a little bit later but I think he’s a natural at the big moments.”

On Sunday Berrettini faces the ultimate test against Novak Djokovic who will be seeking his third consecutive Wimbledon title and sixth overall. He has lost to the Serbian twice before on the Tour, including the French Open earlier this year. The Italian enters the final as the underdog but Wilander thinks he shouldn’t be underestimated.

“I think he has a good chance, I really do because that serve (of his) is different and he has a different forehand. He is not afraid to stay alive,” he concluded.

UbiTennis’ full interview with Wilander can be listened to below

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