The American has returned to the court after having a baby and a stint in the broadcast booth.
By Ben Rothenberg
Taylor Townsend rocked the 2019 US Open when, ranked 116th, she stunned No. 4 Simona Halep in a third-set tiebreak with her throwback serve-and-volley style. Just a year later, Townsend would step away from the tour due to pregnancy with her son, A.J. After taking more than a year off to give birth—and dabble in commentary—Townsend, 26, returned to competition this April fitter than ever. On the green clay of the American Southeast, Townsend reeled off quarterfinals in Palm Harbor, Fla., and Charlottesville, Va., and then a title in Charleston. After her return at Roland-Garros, where she was hindered by cramping in her foot in her first-round loss to Caroline Garcia but made the semifinals in doubles paired with Madison Keys, Townsend spoke to Racquet about her comeback, her new perspective, and her favorite ATP names to pronounce.
How does it feel to be back at a Slam?
Amazing. I’m kind of bummed because of what happened—my body just let me down a little bit—especially with how hard I’ve been training. It was definitely a bummer for me because, physically, I felt amazing coming into the event. I’ve played for weeks in a row and had an amazing, super intense training week last week. So in terms of volume and conditioning, there was no doubt. It was kind of a shock for me to have to figure it out as the match went on, but it felt amazing to be back. I couldn’t have asked for a better place, a better crowd, being on Lenglen, such a beautiful court, playing a French person. Kind of an ideal situation.
So overall, how has your comeback been in terms of the physical-fitness side and also the tennis?
It’s been amazing, and that’s what’s kind of been shocking, that I haven’t had any issues. I played three weeks in a row and didn’t have any problems. I played when it was incredibly hot, incredibly humid, and, in a couple of places, temperatures similar to Paris as well. So fitness and conditioning hasn’t been an issue. I’m in the best shape of my entire life, in my entire career.
What do you think has allowed you to get into this great shape at this stage of your life after having a kid? It’s not always a time associated with peak fitness. How has that worked for you?
I think it was just taking the time. I’ve never been away from the game this long. I strategically placed myself to come back in this window. I gave myself quite a bit of time to recover, to heal, to experience the newness of being a mom without feeling like I had to rush or had pressure. My coach-slash-trainer-slash-nutritionist, John Williams, has done everything for me. He formulated this plan that I follow that has been pretty aggressive, very challenging. It’s taken a lot of discipline and it’s allowed me to be here and in the best shape of my life. So I can’t really complain. But yeah, I just gave myself time and just tried to enjoy every step of the way.
The WTA rewrote some of the maternity-leave rules after Serena came back. How much did that help, having that extra time?
Yeah, it definitely helped. I had to do my own due diligence of understanding the rules; it was something that didn’t affect me when they rewrote it, and now it did. I had to make sure I understood every facet of the rules: how many tournaments you get, how long you have to be out. It’s definitely nice to have this structure in place where I know that I’ll be able to come back and use my protected ranking, have a certain amount of tournaments, and get to play a certain amount of Slams. So it definitely gives me that peace of mind to be able to construct my schedule, even though I’m kind of starting over, forfeiting my ranking to be able to use the protected points. So I was kind of starting at zero, which was honestly kind of fun [laughs]; I can only go up from here. I’m very thankful to the WTA because this is something that we have to consider, being a women’s tour. And this is something that happens. You see [Elina] Svitolina is now pregnant and it’s a lot of people who are starting to have kids and kind of rewriting that narrative that your career isn’t over once you have a kid. You’re able to come back. And I think that is super empowering.
You were on Tennis Channel quite a bit while you were off the tour—how did seeing the sport from that different viewpoint, the media side, change your perspective on how you look at this whole world?
Totally. I have so much respect for you all. [Laughs] Not that I didn’t before, but being on the other side, I saw all of the hustle and bustle that goes into it, the long days, long nights. I could be there from 8 a.m. to past 12 at night. It definitely took me outside of my comfort zone. I don’t operate in chaos well, so having to be prepared to go on camera at any time or in the booth at any time was just a lot of adjustments. But I was just like, wow, I really appreciate it. When you’re in this world, media is kind of something that you have to do. But, doing Tennis Channel, now I am appreciative of doing those things because I understand there’s so much more that goes into it.
What did you learn about the tours from being an analyst? Did it change how you see any players, or anything about the sport structurally or culturally?
Maybe not that deep [laughs], but definitely there are a lot of players that I had no idea who they were, and now walking around and seeing the guys—especially the guys—whose matches I called… I didn’t know who they were and now I’m like, “Oh, this is him!” I’m making mental notes of what I remembered, certain parts of their game that were interesting. It opened my viewpoint a little bit outside of the WTA and the small window of the most televised players you see on the ATP. So it definitely broadened the field of players. It helped me to see the game in a different way, to actually analyze what’s happening and to have to talk about it, versus just being in the mindset of a player and what I would do. It was really cool and it made me watch the game totally differently.
That new analytical eye you have for commentating, does that help you on court now? Can you break down matches better than you used to before?
For sure, because I’m looking at it in a different way. I’ve been able to see what players like, what players don’t like. But the hard part is: Can you execute that while you’re playing? [Laughs] You can have all the information and know this person likes to do this and that, but can you operate and can you apply what you know under pressure? And that’s the hard part. So it definitely has helped me, because I was trying to put myself in those situations. If I was on court while they were playing, what would I do? I tried not to talk about that [on air], but mentally I made notes. So I’ve definitely got some keys up here. Now it’s just, can I transfer it? That’s the main thing.
Were there any players you hadn’t heard of before who you were really impressed by?
Yeah, like Van de Zandschulp. There is this guy, Rinderknech. Bonzi. I had no idea who these guys are, but now I do; like, you watch FAA, but then you have to talk about his opponent. Those are a couple of the ones that stand out, I’m sure, also, because of the names. [Laughs] I got reamed a couple of times on social media for mispronouncing people’s names.
You were on air at a very busy news time for tennis. All this stuff going on in the world that’s coming into tennis now, you had to be on top of that and paying attention. Did that make you see how the sport exists in the world in a different sort of way?
Definitely, I was seeing the top players having to deal with the politics aspect of it. It’s the hard part about the sport where you’re dealing with different countries each week, going to different places. It makes it very difficult as a player, navigating in these times. I was behind the desk and having to have an opinion but at the same time trying to be objective and see both sides of the coin because everybody has their logic and reasoning. So I just tried to give each person and each situation the benefit of the doubt and not be too judgmental. But it definitely made me see the political side not just from the player’s point of view, but from the tournament, TV viewership aspect as well.
What’s your schedule for the next few weeks?
I’m playing doubles with Madison Keys, and then I’m skipping the grass, having a couple training weeks, kind of a mini off-season. Then I’m playing, like, six tournaments on the hard courts, so I’m playing pretty much the whole US Open Series and the US Open. So I’m really excited for that. I can’t wait to gear up for the States and play on hard court. And A.J. is going to travel with me, so I’m really excited about that because apparently that’s the only thing everyone cares about. [Laughs] That’s the first question: “Hey, how are you? Where’s the baby?”
Was it an easy choice to skip the grass?
Yeah. Personally, I just didn’t really know how my body was going to hold up playing so many weeks in a row. I didn’t really have doubts, but you have to schedule your tournaments two to four weeks in advance, so I just didn’t want to put that pressure on myself to have to go back-to-back. I wanted to give myself the opportunity to play intensely, analyze, see how it went, take a step back, take a break, and peak again for the hard-court season. And, you know, according to what’s happening at Wimbledon, I don’t really think that that was such a bad idea. [Laughs]
Above: Taylor Townsend in Paris last week. (Getty)