The following is a interview conducted with Patrick McEnroe and the top women's junior player in the United States, Taylor Townsend of Stockbridge, Ga. Taylor swept the singles and doubles title at the Australian Open in January, the first American to do that at a Junior Slam since Lindsay Davenport at the 1992 U.S. Open.
Q. Patrick, when you're looking for young talent, what is the key thing that you look for?
PATRICK McENROE: How about desire? I think that's obviously crucial. Overall athleticism. Certainly tennis IQ is up there on the list. But I think the thing I've learned in my four and a half years on this job is that there's a lot of talent out there. Obviously Taylor is one of those young players. What helps differentiate the players as they get a little bit older and play with the pressure of obviously high-level juniors, then start their pro careers, is that hunger, that desire to keep working and keep improving. The trajectory of getting from being a top junior nowadays to becoming a top player in the men's and women's game, it's a little bit longer than it was certainly when I was growing up and playing where you had 16 and 17-year-olds getting to the last four of majors. Those days are probably over. That means you really have to have a lot of hunger, have to keep improving. Taylor has had a lot of success in the juniors. We hope she continues to do that. What I'm most proud of about her is that she wants to get better. She's working hard, working on her overall game, which is a great tennis game. She has a lot of natural ability as a player. What's going to determine whether or not she makes it to the top of women's tennis is going to be her desire, her work ethic day in and day out. Once you start to make that transition to the pros, it's inevitable that you're going to suffer some losses, have some bumps and bruises along the way. The players that are really focused and determined and that can go through that have the best chance of making it all the way to the top.
Q. What's the key to that focus?
PATRICK McENROE: As I said, I think it's desire to want to get there. Being the number one junior in the world is a great accomplishment. I can tell you that Taylor has much higher goals for herself. It's not going to happen, as I said, overnight. She's still quite young and she's got a couple of years ahead of her to keep playing some juniors and obviously start transitioning to the pros, as well. We'll all work with her and her coaches and her parents and everyone on what makes the most sense for her to keep progressing and keep pushing herself to get better.
Q. We have an incredible situation with the top three or four in men's tennis. The younger generation is not breaking through. Could you comment about the big picture there.
PATRICK McENROE: Well, when someone like Andy Murray can't break through and win a major, that tells you how difficult it is. You're dealing with, in the men's game, three of arguably the greatest players of all time. Certainly if Djokovic can win the French, you have to start thinking of him in those terms career-wise along with Federer and Nadal. Those guys have already done it, won all the majors. It's pretty amazing when you think in the Open era when Agassi finally did it and won the French, he's the first guy since the Rocket to win all four majors. Now you have potentially three players in a row with a chance to do that. I think it's really more a testament to how good those three guys are rather than sort of the deficiencies in a Milos Raonic or Ryan Harrison. They're young and they have a lot of work to do to keep improving. The bar has been raised incredibly high.
Q. Patrick, Taylor doesn't have a regular game for a junior girl. She's very aggressive and looks like she likes to attack the net. Can you describe her game?
PATRICK McENROE: I'll let Taylor answer that first.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I've always been comfortable at the net. When I started playing tennis, we did a lot of volleys. It was just something that I pretty much just came up with. It was kind of normal to me. Now that I've been able to travel and see how a lot of other girls play around the world, I see that it's not really normal. It's normal to me, but not normal to other people. I'm glad I'm able to have a game that's different and unique, be able to use it to my advantage.
Q. Taylor, can you describe your move from California to South Florida. Did you start at Plantation or go right to Boca?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I'm originally from Chicago, then I moved to Atlanta. I mean, my transition, I moved from Atlanta straight to Boca. I was pretty comfortable with the transition, though. I was really comfortable with USTA coach Kathy Rinaldi. I had been going on trips with her during my eighth grade year. I was really comfortable with her, the way she coached me. We had a good connection. She understood my game, what I needed to do. She pinpointed some things out to me that were really helpful to continue to help me
progress. We had a good relationship. So it wasn't really a hard transition for me. I was really excited about coming to the program. I love the environment here. It's a lot of fun.
Q. What is your personal timetable to turn pro? College or right to the circuit?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I like to keep my options open as of right now. My goal is to go pro. Until I feel like it's the right time, and I consult with my family and everyone, then I'm just going to stay amateur for now.
Q. Patrick, how significant is it to be the No. 1 junior in the world? We see a lot of guys teeter out once they got there. Remind me of the last few Americans that had that title.
PATRICK McENROE: That's a good question. As Tim says, she's the first to get to No. 1 since Lindsay. Obviously, those are big shoes to fill. As Taylor said, she's on her own timeline. As long as she keeps working hard and keeps improving and gets in better shape, her overall game is obviously very sound, but everything has to get better.
That will happen in due time. But, as I said in the answer to my first question, the game is a lot tougher physically now than it's ever been. You're seeing that a lot more in the women's game in addition to the men's game. It takes longer to get there, so you've got to keep working. Taylor, as she talked about, her game is different than a lot of the players. But she also has to go out there and hit a lot of balls to be able to use her weapons, coming forward, variety, she likes to serve and volley. You need the other pieces of the puzzle as well. You can be a great volleyer, but if you can't move around the court and get to the net, chances are you'll be exposed the higher level you go. So I think that's why you have to continue to work hard all the time. You have to in some ways be more patient that it's not going to happen overnight. We're not talking about No. 1's from America, but look at No. 1's in the juniors. You can go down the list in the last 10, 15 years. It's not the automatic to be the No. 1 junior, to all of a sudden be in the top 5 or the top 10.
Q. Taylor, I was wondering what you've been doing since the Easter Bowl, if you've been training on red clay to prepare for the French, and if you're going to go over and play Belgium first?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: After the Easter Bowl I came back to Boca for a few days and really the fitness pretty hard. I went to the junior Fed Cup in Mexico. After that I came back to Boca for two weeks and I hit fitness really hard again. I just came back last week from Pat Etcheberry's place in Orlando. We've been working on my fitness and strength. I've been hitting on the clay. But I'm not playing Belgium. We're going go over to Spain for about a week and train on the red clay. We're really familiar with BTT, that's the academy we're going to. We're really familiar with them. We went for three weeks last year, so we know the coaches, the drills and everything, so it should be really good. We should be ready for the French.
Q. Because of your game style, I don't imagine red clay is high on your list of favorite surfaces, but how will you adapt to clay?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I really like clay actually. I can't speak about grass, I've never played on grass. I love hard court. I think it really helps as far as like my heavy topspin, my slice, using my serve. I think it's more about not so much adjusting but it's more about using the clay, using the surface to my advantage, making more my opponents move. Obviously the points are going to be a lot longer on the clay. That's why we're working on the fitness, being able to stay in points. But I think my game is pretty well-suited for clay, as well.
Q. Patrick, what are your thoughts about tamping down the expectations of someone who has had the success that Taylor has at this early age?
PATRICK McENROE: Quite honestly, I was a little torn about even doing this call for that very reason. I don't want Taylor to feel too much pressure, she understands what I'm saying, to get
too big of a head. But she's done great, she's working very hard. As she said, Kathy Rinaldi and her have a great relationship. Kathy has really poured her blood, sweat and tears into not only helping Taylor but Samantha Crawford, a number of other girls down if Boca, Grace Min when she is down in Boca. There's a nice camaraderie with the girls down there. Obviously Taylor has some really good friends down there. That helps a lot when you're away from home. That's difficult. But I think she's doing really well. She's handling success well. To win the Australian, I was lucky enough to be there, sit behind Kathy during the last couple of matches, to see the emotion that the two of them had was great to see. You can tell it means a lot more to them than just a tennis match. That's a great sign. Then Taylor came back and had a great Easter Bowl and won there. I think she's handling the success well. Again, it's all about coming back, as she said, going back to work, working hard, getting better. You have to enjoy the process. You have to enjoy the people you're working with, the people you're around. I think if you do that, in due course the results will come. If you're a happy person, you're happy with how you're improving, I think that's what we're looking for. Obviously we're looking for our players to do well, but we're also looking to create an environment where they're thriving as people and they're enjoying themselves and they're good citizens in addition to being hopefully great tennis players in the future.
Q. Patrick, I know how hard you've worked with USTA player development in the U.S. If you would take one aspect of any country's Player Development Program and use it in the U.S., something somebody else has been successful with, what would it be?
PATRICK McENROE: I'm not skirting that question because I think it's a good one. To be honest, I think we're kind of trying to do it our way. We are the United States of America. That's not to say we haven't looked at what Spain has done. This is one of the reasons why we sent our girls over to BTT, which is a tennis academy in Barcelona. By the way, Jose Higueras will be there with the girls next week. He has a very good relationship with that academy. You look at what the French have done with their sort of regional centers. That's something we're trying to do in a similar fashion with our own regional training centers around the country, working more hand-in-hand with them, communicating the way we're trying to coach and hopefully find out from them. I don't really think it's
taking one thing. I remember, when I was playing, the Swedish players. It wasn't so much the way they played but their camaraderie. They supported each other, were out there helping each other. I think we have that with Taylor and the group of girls that were out there. It was awesome to see the other girls that were there watching her play. She won the doubles there with Gabrielle Andrews. To see them supporting each other, watching each other's matches, that's what it's all about. I guess if there was one thing I could pinpoint, it's this being a team effort on our part. That starts from USTA Player Development, that's the private academies, the personal coaches. That's not always easy to navigate those waters, nor is it easy to have players that are competing with each other out there supporting each other. I guess that's the one thing I'd like to see us do more of and I think as a group we are.
Q. Taylor, now that you've won the Australian Open, you're being compared to Serena and Venus at such a young age, what are your expectations heading into the French?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I set high expectations for myself for each tournament. I've always lived by the motto that I'm not going to go to a tournament if I don't feel like I can do well. My expectations, I'm going to do the best
that I can. But I feel like I can do well at this tournament. I started off my year great. I feel like I can continue that success, so...
Q. You said you've never played on grass. Obviously you've played on hard court clay. How many times have you played on a clay court?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I've played on clay not a lot, but I've played on clay a good bit my life. I've only played an actual event on red clay one time, and that was in Prostejov in the Czech Republic for the World Junior Cup, I = played doubles there. That's the only time I've had competition on the red play. But I trained on red clay three weeks last year in Spain. That's the last time I was on the red clay. It should be fun.
PATRICK McENROE: In all three of our centers, we have the green clay, we have the Har-Tru. It's a little bit different than the red clay. But we're having them play as much as possible on the clay to get used to the movement, sliding, patience, building points.
Q. Patrick, what do you think is the biggest reason why an American hasn't been able to break through? We've seen John Isner. But break through and stay there. If you could say there's one specific reason, what do you think the biggest reason is?
PATRICK McENROE: Are you talking about at the French or in general?
Q. It was more general, but if you want to aim at the French as well.
PATRICK McENROE: You mean likebreak through and win a major? I'm trying to specify what you mean.
Q. Not just win a major, but stay there, too. Yes, win a major.
PATRICK McENROE: I'm trying to think about who else, other than Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, who have. There's a short list. This is what we're trying to accomplish. We're trying to get more kids playing tennis, number one. It's the same old refrain: there's not one issue. The issue is that there's phenomenal athletes playing tennis from all over the world. We've got to do a better job getting those kind of kids playing tennis, then we've got to do a better job coaching them and mentoring them as a country. The USTA, we've got to do a better job. If you do everything right, you've got a chance. You've got a chance to make it. I can't pinpoint one thing at all. I think this is a long-term project, at least for me when I took over this position four years ago. We're happy with the progress but we realize we've got a long way to go.
Q. Taylor, possibly a sensitive issue. You never like to ask a woman about weight issues. Early on I noticed you were pretty overweight. I saw you recently and I marveled at how svelte you looked. Can you talk about your battle with that over the years and what you've done to get in better condition.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I've always been pretty comfortable with my body. I know and I've been told, it's obvious for me, that I don't have a typical body type of everyone else. Really I just have to work with what I have pretty much. I use it. To me it's been working pretty well (laughter). Being down at USTA’s center, I've learned the importance of my fitness level. I learned that just skill alone, talent, being able to use your hands isn't always enough. If I can't get to the ball, if I can't stay in the point long enough, I won't be able to give myself an opportunity to be able to use what I have. Fitness is really important. I've learned that over the course of these years being here. I definitely made a transition, a positive transition, in the way that my body has come along. I think as well as losing weight, dropping weight, but growing as well. I was young probably when you saw me. So just being able to grow into my body, get a little taller, all that stuff, it's helped a lot. Hopefully I can grow a few more inches. But I'm just pretty much using what I have.
PATRICK McENROE: You're using it pretty darn well, Taylor. Don't worry about it.
Q. How tall are you?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I'm 5'6" and a half-ish.
Q. What junk food have you given up?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I've given up a lot actually.
Q. Your favorite one?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Fast food, like burgers and all that stuff, it makes me sick now. I can't eat stuff like that. Like McDonald's, fries, all that stuff, if I eat it, I get a bad stomachache. I've given up ice cream. Went to Froyo. It's a little bit healthier.
Q. What flavor did you give up?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Cookie dough.
Q. After the Australian I hope you treated yourself.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: I had frozen yogurt.
Q. Taylor, of all the things you do in life, tell us something you want the world to know about you, whether it's on or off court, that maybe we don't know.
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Well, I love to dance. I know they all talk about Azarenka, how she dances before she gets ready. That's me, too. When I was at the Easter Bowl, they all talked about how I had on my beads, I was in my zone. That's how I get ready for my matches. I have my music. I love music as well. I played the violin for three years in middle school. I played from sixth to eighth grade. In my seventh and eighth grade year, I was in honor orchestra. I'm pretty good at it.
Q. What kind of music do you play on the violin and what kind of music do you dance to?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: On the violin, I play a lot of stuff. When I was in school, my instructor, she would kind of pick the music out depending on our performance or whatever. But we did Pirates of the Caribbean, we did Bella's Lullaby, which is from Twilight. We do modern stuff, but a lot of different stuff like classical, jazz and blues. It's fun.
Q. Is there a favorite composer in there?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: Not really. I mean, I just recently got my violin fixed. I started playing again. But I haven't played in a while.
Q. And what do you dance to getting ready for a match?
TAYLOR TOWNSEND: It depends on my mood. Sometimes I like to listen to rap, but also it depends how I'm feeling. Sometimes I listen to rock, sometimes pop. Now I've started listening to house music a lot.