It was 2007 when Taylor Townsend was sitting in the nosebleed seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium watching Serena Williams and Venus Williams play each other for a night match. Fast-forward to 2014, Townsend earned a huge seat upgrade– not simply in the front row, but on the court– as the opponent of the No. 1 seed, Serena Williams, at the same stadium for the opening-round match of her US Open debut.
When Townsend found out about the news she didn’t believe it.
“I found out on Twitter,” says Townsend. “Okay, let me double-check. It was true. So then I was just immediately really excited. I just thought that it was a huge opportunity.”
Townsend turned professional at the end of the 2012 season after achieving the world No. 1-ranking as a junior, the first American girl to do so in 30 years. She made her Grand Slam debut earlier this year at Roland Garros as a wild card and advanced to the third round.
In lieu of 18-year old Townsend’s success, she looks up to Serena as she is one of the main reasons why Townsend is present in the tennis world.
“I mean, Serena’s an African-American woman from Compton, California who won [now 18] 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, [she] just has changed the game of tennis. I think I’ve just learned from her story that anything is possible,” says Townsend with emotion.
Their friendship blossomed last year at the Fed Cup in Delray Beach, Florida, when she had the chance to talk to Serena and Venus during a rain delay.
They had casual girl-talk including hair and nails. Then months later in Charleston, South Carolina, they chatted again for more than an hour and capped it off with selfies at the players’ party.
Serena was just as excited to play Townsend.
“We’re really good friends. We always talk and always text each other. It’s going to be a really tough match for me…She’s such a great player. [She’s] extremely young. I have been able to see her play a little bit. She does everything really, really well,” says Serena.
Entering the match, they both won in the nail department. Townsend wore a gel manicure with deep, hot pink polish with blue tips. Williams rocked pastel pink nail polish with crystal, pink and black leopard-prints on her middle nails.
But only one could win the tennis match, which was Serena 6-3, 6-1 who went on to win her first first Grand Slam title of 2014.
Townsend didn’t allow the defeat affect her negatively. She was honored to face her idol and was all smiles.
“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,” says Townsend with joy.
The match helped reaffirm Townsend that she’s doing all the right things, her serve can be a weapon and she can be a threat in the pro circuit with her style of play.
Serena also applauded Taylor and referred to her as the “Future of Tennis.” Serena continued to speak positively of Townsend. “She’s a lefty. I always wanted to be lefty.” smiles Serena with envy.
Why does Serena envy lefties? “That just in general puts you on a whole new level as a player. She’s a very aggressive player. She comes to the net, she makes her shots. You don’t really see that in tennis so much. You see players that, you know, stay aback and hug the baselines, as I do. But it’s good, refreshing, and I think it’s the future of tennis just by doing what she does,” says Serena.
Townsend is creating a story of her own for the current and future generations of tennis, just how she is inspired by Serena’s story.
“I’ve always said that I wanted to use my tennis to inspire and help people. I want to continue [to be an inspiration and role model] as I progress in the pros and get better just because if we have these gifts and talents [and] we don’t use it to help try to make a difference, then it really doesn’t matter,” says Townsend.
As Townsend said, “anything is possible.” It took her seven years to earn her huge seat upgrade, which at the time she thought was unfathomable.