Home Health News Is This Tennis Player’s Weight Affecting Her Ability To Compete?

Is This Tennis Player’s Weight Affecting Her Ability To Compete?

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I’m trying to find out the full story on this, because this is all I could find, and surely, this isn’t the full story:

There is a Serena Williams-type tennis player terrorizing the world’s junior tennis circuit, a black girl named Taylor Townsend. But the USTA has banned the teenager from competition, saying the top ranked junior tennis player is too fat to play. Yes, you read that right.

Serena Williams herself called the decision by the United States Tennis Association “a tragedy.”

The Chicago-born tennis prodigy, 16, who is part of a four-year-old USTA-funded development program, is the world’s No. 1 junior girls player, the reigning junior Australian Open singles champion and the junior Wimbledon doubles champion. But her coaches and the USTA refuse to fund her anymore until she gets her weight together.

”If that happened, that’s obviously a tragedy, because everyone deserves to play,” Williams said Monday, a day after winning the U.S. Open, according to the Wall Street Journal, who broke the story last week.

Townsend played at the Open, winning the junior doubles title and reaching the quarterfinals in singles.

“Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player,” said Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA’s player development program and brother of tennis legend John McEnroe. “We have one goal in mind: For her 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.”

Townsend’s mother, Shelia, who played tennis at Lincoln University, has not discussed the situation publicly before. This week she said she’d been baffled by the USTA’s decision. “It all kind of came as a shock to us because Taylor has consistently done quite well,” she said. Her daughter, she reminded, “is No. 1, not just in the United States, but in the world.”

The WSJ article that was referenced says the following:

But unbeknownst to everyone outside her inner circle, the USTA wasn’t happy to see Townsend in New York. Her coaches declined to pay her travel expenses to attend the Open and told her this summer that they wouldn’t finance any tournament appearances until she makes sufficient progress in one area: slimming down and getting into better shape.

“Our concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player,” said Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA’s player development program. “We have one goal in mind: For her 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.”

I’m curious: is the USTA known for making decisions and statements like this? I’m doing my damndest to avoid making a statement about somewhere where I feel like I need far more context, but… really?

“Weight issues” notwithstanding, but you mean to tell me that even when she’s clearly slaying everyone left to right, you’re still willing to cut her funding? Is it that much of a problem, having a “fat Black girl” represent your organization, even when she’s succeeding and worthy of support?

BGG2WL family, what are your thoughts? Tennis fans, what am I missing, here?

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Naffy September 13, 2012 - 12:50 PM

I hope somebody else, maybe a pro athlete, celeb, business person or organization who can afford to do so, steps up to sponsor her for the rest of the year so that she does not have to depend on the USTA at all and never joins them again, but instead continues to kick a$$ on the tennis court while NOT representing them.

Hope September 13, 2012 - 1:46 PM

ditto! How can you be first in the world, but banned from play over something that is not against the rules?????

Leena September 13, 2012 - 1:53 PM

Definitely. And some of the so call weight she has is probably a lot of muscle. Not everyone who is slim has well defined muscles. They are trying to fit her into a body type that is not her own and that’s the wrong thing about it.

EileenMCastroMA September 13, 2012 - 3:50 PM


I could not agree with you more! What the USTA is doing is atrocious! As someone who knows a little something about tennis, I can say that it is a grueling sport, very physical, and a huge cardiovascular workout, which leads me to believe that this girl is working her ass off! Let me say this, if her body is staying the way it is after all that excerise it’s because that is how her body just is! Anyway, fat?! That girl is FAR from fat! Give her a break, and I too share with Naffy, the hope that someone big in the sport steps forward and shows this girl hard work, and excellent performance is what matters, not body size or shape!

Juli September 13, 2012 - 12:54 PM

I’ve heard people claim that this is a stance being taken by the media, either intentionally or not, against the naturally more, er, robust bodies of black women. All things considered, she’s not at a weight that I think would negatively affect her health but I’d like to know what her overall body fat percentage before I say anything for or against their decision.

Although I did find it ironic that, in an attempt to encourage her to lose weight, they’re taking away her motivation to do physical activity.

In regards to her body fat percentage… it’s a measurement, no way to do it accurately at home, that weighs you, your muscle mass, your bone mass, your vital organs and your necessary fat based on age and gender. It then tells you exactly how much of your body weight is fat that can be / needs to be lost. I have an absolutely depressing story about the time I tried to join the armed services, was told that, per my BMI I needed to lose 25 pounds, lost 10 no problem, plateued like no one’s business, eventually went and got my BFP tested to find out that I only had 8 pounds of unnecessary fat left on me. In order to make the goal set by the recruiter I’d have to lose 7 additional pounds of muscle….

I tell this story to illustrate the fact that BMI is a horrible scale and that there’s a good chance she has no more body fat than every other kid her age who exercises daily.

Shadra September 13, 2012 - 1:03 PM

If her weight was losing them any money, I could possibly see the complaint. However, she’s not just good…she’s great! She’s an athlete and I’m glad Serena is not supporting the decisions by the USTA. And if I’m not mistaken, there is a European tennis athlete that was looking a larger than usual slim athletes. Didn’t hear any complaints about her during the Olympics.

Teruko September 13, 2012 - 1:04 PM

Seriously? Because they are concerned for her health? She must be in shape if she can run up and down a tennis court AND win! Just cannot stand to see another pretty little brown face taking over.

AA September 13, 2012 - 1:08 PM

I’m an African American tennis fan and adult recreational player. No one can question Taylor’s talent, but what comes into question is her commitment to the game. If you are an overweight professional athlete its fair to see how your commitment to being the best is questioned. When it comes to sport, you have to be fit to compete at a professional level. Tennis is no exception. And frankly as good as she is in the juniors she won’t be able to compete at the professional level at that weight. She’s at a crucial crossroads where she will soon have to compete with professionals like Serena and that will be tough anyway, but nearly impossible if she’s not in top condition. If she’s not at least progressing towards the weight loss goals they’ve set forth, notwithstanding any health issues that might be prohibiting her from making progress, the decision makes sense. But of course I have no inside information as to just how much work the USTA has done with her to help her lose weight up until this point. My assessment assumes they’ve really put in the work to help her and she’s truly been unwilling.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 13, 2012 - 3:59 PM

This is more of the balance I’ve been looking for in this dialogue.

Is the assumption that only a smaller-sized individual can compete successfully on the professional level? Is tennis that much *more* of an agility issue than a strength issue? (Of course, they work hand in hand, but some activities favor one or the other, and size favors strength while shrinking favors agility.)

If that’s the case, then I’m curious about what the USTA sees in her improvement needs that others might not.

Kim September 13, 2012 - 5:45 PM

I agree! She’s 16 why can’t she just lose the weight. The shouldn’t be any fat tennis players, white or black.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 13, 2012 - 5:52 PM

Sure, but at the same time, she’s 16…how do we know there’s not something else going on – something that, mind you, may *need* to be going on – with her? And does any teenager need the entire country discussing whether or not her body is a problem?

Rooo January 31, 2013 - 11:45 PM

“And does any teenager need the entire country discussing whether or not her body is a problem? “

No. No. She does not.

Especially if she’s a she. And particularly especially if she’s in any way of African descent.


Not with all the built-in BS biases in this country that are especially poisonous in a moneyed sport like tennis.

I’ve heard Sloane Stephens described as ‘fat” by pseudo-fans. And we know what she looks like.

/still mad

Diana September 15, 2012 - 9:23 AM

I understand what you just said just not sure why you assume that she has been unwilling? What gave you that conclusion?

Serenity September 13, 2012 - 2:10 PM

This is a tactic to keep tennis for white people. For a child to be active enough to be considered #1 in the world… and she is after having won the Australian open… in her division, clearly she is fit. What the problem is the tendency for non-white people to have endomorphic body types. Folks want to equate thinness with health and it’s not necessarily so.

Now that Venus Williams is finishing up her career I hope that she and her sister start channeling just a small percentage of their wealth into the training of young Black athletes. Give them the support and training that their father gave them. It won’t change unless we change it.

Gayla Coughlin September 13, 2012 - 2:18 PM

She should just fund herself….then all the promo and funding will go into HER bank account. What in god’s hell does her weight have anything to do with health? Her heart is clearly pumping if she can run the course during a game, cardio is FINE. Muscle tone is what it needs to be if she can withstand the rigors of quick changes and power needed.

This is about marketability. Nothing more. A sexy player will sell more seats and merchandise.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 13, 2012 - 4:04 PM

This is a pricy venture. It’s the primary thing that keeps so many minorities from being able to participate in equipment-heavy/-specific sports. I feel like I recall reading that the family of the young Black man who ventured out into NASCAR spent upwards of a million on his training and practice.

Do you know what can be done with a million? Dawg. Think of what you’d do with a million dollars, and then think about the fact that it was spent on a teenager being able to drive in circles on a track repeatedly. (I’m being dismissive, but not intentionally.)

Just… wowzers.

Angie September 13, 2012 - 2:35 PM

This is so sad…..obviously it isn’t an issue if she is number one in the world…..as a serious athlete which im sure she is she is learning how to properly eat and train…rather than bash her help her in her journey….they just mad…i hope her mother can find other sponsors willing to finance this girl’s tennis tournaments….and say dueces and the middle finger tho them…

Najah September 13, 2012 - 2:52 PM

There were some other articles about it too–ones that quoted Martina Narvritalova and Lindsay Davenport. Both of them reported that they had been “talked to” by the USTA in their teeen years for supposedly not being in shape and that it was b/c of the focus in tennis on women tennis players having a certain image and how problematic it was. I really hate to think what this whole back and forth did for this young lady’s self-esteem. Holding aside the fact that I don’t think she is “fat” or “overweight,” the idea that the USTA would engage in such public shaming of a 16 year old is pretty horrendous. the WSJ reported that McEnroe responded to the controversy and said they would reimburse Townsend’s mother and that it was a “misunderstanding.”

Erika Nicole Kendall September 13, 2012 - 4:00 PM

“Both of them reported that they had been “talked to” by the USTA in their teeen years for supposedly not being in shape and that it was b/c of the focus in tennis on women tennis players having a certain image and how problematic it was.”

Oh. Word?

Knew it.

Annette September 15, 2012 - 2:58 PM

the idea that the USTA would engage in such public shaming of a 16 year old is pretty horrendous.

This is what concerns me this impression their lack or support and not working it out by giving guidelines. Is it more about image or is it about fitness? Sounds like they are trying to crush her dreams. In this whole dialogue it doesn’t sound like they have worked with her at all. They have talked to her and are done.

Tiffany September 13, 2012 - 2:59 PM

To me, this reads as ” we don’t want yet another black girl dominating in tennis, so we will find an excuse to derail you, but we will sell it to the public as our concern over your health, because BMI.”

Like the first commentor stated, I hope she can find someone or organization to sponsor her. Or, can we start like a kickstarter or something for her, so she isn’t dependent on USTA?

tammi September 13, 2012 - 3:39 PM

Is that her in the picture? She looks Serena’s size to me *puzzled*. I understand for health reasons ONLY if they had prevented her from playing from the start, but since she’s been playing g and winning, what’s the problem? Maybe the field is getting too saturated *cough* and they want to keep her down the only way they know how….

Natasha September 13, 2012 - 3:39 PM

Oh this story pisses me off! I’m not calm enough to compose a rational reply.

The BMI scale doesn’t take body types into consideration, and apparently Patcick McEnroe and the USTA doesn’t either.

Tami September 13, 2012 - 3:46 PM

Obviously her weight has nothing to do with it if she’s the NUMBER ONE women’s junior’s player in the WORLD! This is so outrageous, I’m shouting. If 20 pounds of extra weight had anything to do with her skill she wouldn’t be so successful.

WorldlyDiva September 13, 2012 - 3:57 PM

This ‘concern’ over her health doesn’t quite add up. If she’s able to beat her competitors then she must be in decent shape. The USTA is about looks and a certain image which they link to money and who they think audiences will pay to see. This young lady needs new coaches and funding. The USTA needs to stop the guise of health concerns and call a spade a spade.

Danyal September 13, 2012 - 3:58 PM

This is he craziest thing I have ever heard is in my life. From that picture she doesn’t look like she has a weight problem. So what she maybe ” thick”, what Black Woman isn’t? Leave that baby alone and let her play tennis and continue to knock everyone off they game.

WorldlyDiva September 13, 2012 - 3:59 PM

One more thing-this sort of pressure is how eating disorders and self-hate begin.

Kamea September 13, 2012 - 4:52 PM


Sandra September 13, 2012 - 5:22 PM

While I do feel that the USTA has gone too far on this decision. I can say that as a Tennis fan this type of mentality is very common in the Tennis world…so I don’t believe its racially motivated. At times Serena (as recent as 2009) was referred to as ‘unfit’ and they often implied that she was (in her mid 20s) fatter than she use to be (as a teen). Former world #1 Danira Safina (a russian player) was also looked upon as ‘unfit’ or ‘heavy’ and when she toned up drastically the announcers made a point to mention that she was ‘fitter’. Tennis is very physically demanding and on both the men and women’s side you can see clear cases of players improving with better fitness regimens (ans after shedding some weight). I do think that it’s a discussion for mom, player and coach not the USTA.

Annette September 13, 2012 - 6:28 PM

How did they determine her fitness level. Also was this the best way to handle this? I remember Jennifer Capriati who had similar weight issues.

I still don’t understand why they handled it in this manner. Was there a sit down with her parents did they go over this with them. So many questions.

LaShelle McCoy September 14, 2012 - 6:28 AM

IF this is true, it has to be because they don’t want another black person dominating the sport. Why do I say that? Two words: Lindsay Davenport.

Frank Lores September 14, 2012 - 10:23 AM

Why don’t we all sponsor her. I would donate $25 towards that. Happily. Let’s create a page in Crowdfunder.

Joy Weese Moll September 14, 2012 - 11:20 AM

This is appalling. The thing that makes tennis more unarguably a sport than gymnastics or figure skating is that it’s judged on the points scored in the game. There have been reams written about the body image problems caused by those two “sports.” Tennis should be lauding the fact that it’s immune rather than artificially lumping itself right in there with them.

Roxie September 14, 2012 - 11:53 PM

This is terrible. I hope that a few of the celebs maybe even Serena herself will fund her. I really hope that she is staying positive because its hard enough at 16 to feel comfortable in your own skin when you aren’t in the public eye, but it has to be 10x’s worse when your weight can either make or break your career. I hope that if she does decide to lose the weight that it is done in a healthy way and not in a crash diet way or one that forms an eating disorder.

NursePeaches September 15, 2012 - 9:09 AM

Seems as if they would rather prevent another ‘Venus’ or ‘Serena’ from emerging..

Joanne September 15, 2012 - 9:14 AM

I did a little reading. She is 5’6″ 170lbs. I saw pics of her and I don’t see flab or anything. This is just disappointing! Her mother asked the association for guidelines or what they were looking for and they wouldn’t give her a clear answer! Sigh!!

Dee September 15, 2012 - 9:14 AM

Wow…this really pisses me off. My main issue with this whole thing is that this girl is WINNING. Clearly, her arms are powerful enough for her to be a top server, her legs are in shape enough for her to run across the court over and over and over, her cardiovascular system is strong enough that she does not get winded and too tired to compete during these high intensity matches.

What is the problem again? If she is playing TENNIS which is a super high intensity cardio workout… the girl is in shape. I definitely remember when they used to talk crap about Lindsey davenport being fat..and that girl SLAYED on the court. And she wasn’t fat, she was muscular.

It’s wild cause they don’t talk crap about Serena and this girl is the same size as her AND dominating her junior group the same way Serena dominates in the majors.

I hope someone steps up and sponsors this young lady. It’s a shame that they are SO stuck on this body image crap that they are trying to bring down a young woman who is doing everything right. Working out, playing sports, WINNING…and they are still trying to break down her self esteem. Damn shame.

Teresa September 15, 2012 - 9:15 AM

@Juli… This is off topic but what year did you try to go into the armed forces? My daughter joined last year and is a 2Lt in the Army. She has issues with being over the weight limits due to her muscularity. If she’s over, they do her body measurements to determine the muscle to fat ratio. She routinely weighs about 10lbs more than their “set” guideline. It looks like they finally “get it” that one size doesnt fit all. Plus she earned the “iron woman” honor for being the top in her class for their PT drills.

Ginger @ Girls Just Wanna Have Funds September 15, 2012 - 9:23 AM

Well I think I’d need more context before I comment on how ludicrous this sounds on it’s face. The article’s cited clearly have a slant towards focusing on the weight issue but I’d love to hear more around why they are really withdrawing support. Are there other issues with her health that surpass her performance? In order to perform at such a high level, she has to be in top shape and I wonder if her health might be a concern ie what we really don’t know about what’s under the hood: read: her health.

QUINNETTE FREE September 15, 2012 - 10:40 AM

This is BS!!!!! I played sports as a big girl at her age. Only my mother took note that I could NOT be unhealthy even at my weight, running miles and miles and playing different sports for hours each day. Let me throw a name out there for you LINDSAY DAVENPORT!!! Who for years had some extra poundage, but then again, I am sure noone had to fund her tennis career. I know the tennis world has hated the domination of the Williams sisters, they certainly don’t want another like them.

Traci September 19, 2012 - 7:11 PM

While I know this is a weightloss blog, my comment is more focused on the right to play. I don’t care if Taylor had two left feet and swung the racket with her eye lids. If that young woman is #1 in the world, then she deserves to play as long as she is not doing drugs (or some other illegal activity). The fitness portion of her game will get better with time or she will lose more matches. Taking away an athletes’ game/match/pursuit is not going to help their fitness efforts.

Rooo January 31, 2013 - 11:39 PM

First, an update


This article lists her height at 5’6″. I’ve heard 5’7″. So part of the issue is that she may not yet have her full adult height (which is something a spitting-mad Lindsay Davenport, who topped out at 5’11”, alluded to when defending her earlier). She’s only 16. (By contrast, Sloane Stephens is 19.)

I’ve also heard that her current weight is 170. Serena, by contrast, at last AO weigh-in, is 5’9″ and 150.

Tennis is hard on the knees; there’s a lot of stops and starts and directional changes and lateral movement. By contrast, anorexia is hard on the whole body – and any currently competitive gymnast, swimmer, or figure skater (not by accident are those the “feminine” sports which “emphasize appearance”) could probably say a lot more about that if they chose to (which they probably wouldn’t, unless they were interviewed for “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes”). And she’s the no. 1 ranked junior. So if she were pressured to drop, say, twenty pounds – and then started having trouble with stamina and endurance, or joint instability because of sudden muscle loss … there’d be nobody to blame except the folks who pressured her to drop that weight by whatever means necessary (and yes, this happens; let’s not front).

And then of course, you have the “problem” that … I mean, let’s just be blunt. The USTA would prefer that all their princesses look like Wozniacki or Melanie Oudin. Problem is, I don’t think Melanie got out of the first round, and Woz just lost her number one ranking.

They’re not even as thrilled about Sloane as they should be. /too bad, too sad

No matter what, Pat McEnroe needs to sit the **** down and stay the **** out of it.

(I’m sorry this is not as coherent as I would like it to be. The whole thing just makes me mad every time I think about it. /still mad)

Bigdede May 4, 2013 - 3:27 PM

I may not be in the majority but I agree with Pat and the rest of the people. They are thinking of her long term. They are getting her ready now for a long stable career. She is not built like Serena Williams. She is mostly fat not muscle. She has to use her legs, knees, ankles and feet. So imagine if she was to hurt her legs or knees because of her weight. That would hurt her long term career as a tennis pro. Now if she was all muscle, it wouldn’t affect her. She does need to get in shape so she can turn pro and have a great career. I totally understand what they are doing. She may be great now but what will happen once she’s in the pros and going up against seasoned players.

Rooo May 4, 2013 - 7:17 PM


As a looooong-time tennis fan who has rolled her eyes over PMac’s stupidity on other gender-related issues long before this — he once said the same kinds of things about Lindsey Davenport, if you even know who she is — Imma say this yet again:

If you have not SEEN THIS GIRL TRAIN IN PERSON, you have no idea what she looks like.
If you do not train with her, you have no concept of what her current training regime is.

If you haven’t even thought it through *that* far, perhaps that’s a signal that you need to shut it down.


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