Fifteen-year-old Taylor Townsend wasn’t intimidated by playing the most important match of her young tennis career at 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena on Saturday.
In fact, she took a souvenir so she could remember the experience.
”I was actually surprised that I saw four towels, like two towels on one seat, two towels on the other,” she said. ”I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m gonna snag these.’ That’s exactly what I did.”
Townsend, a native of Stockbridge, Georgia, took home a couple of trophies, as well.
She defeated Yulia Putintseva of Russia 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 on Saturday to win the girls’ singles event at the Australian Open, a day after she and partner Gabrielle Andrews of Pomona, California, won the girls’ doubles title.
When she closed out her singles’ victory, Townsend burst into tears on court.
”Tears of joy,” she said afterward. ”It’s a dream come true for me, you know. A lot of people were supporting me, and my family and everything are just so proud. It was just a proud moment for me and … the feelings kind of rushed in.”
Townsend, who was discovered and initially coached by the parents of American player Donald Young, said she wouldn’t have made the trip Down Under if she hadn’t been confident she could win the title, even though she’s a couple of years younger than many of the other competitors.
”That’s a belief that I had in myself, but, I mean, definitely when I got through the quarterfinals, I was like, ‘You have three more matches and you can win this.”’
Townsend’s current coach, former top 10 player Kathy Rinaldi, said that she’s been training with her full-time in Florida and it’s sometimes been difficult for her to be away from home.
”I said, ‘It takes some sacrifices and it will pay off for you,”’ Rinaldi said. ”And she goes ‘I’m trusting you.’ And it paid off for her this week.”
In her down time in Melbourne this week, Townsend has been checking out some of the top pros on court. But she’s not that interested in watching the women play.
”I definitely watch the men more. I stayed up watching Federer-Nadal,” she said. ”I honestly couldn’t believe the shots that Federer was hitting, and I couldn’t believe that Nadal was getting them back.”
444 AND COUNTING: Esther Vergeer knows she’ll probably lose a tennis match again someday. She just didn’t want it to happen this week at Melbourne Park.
The 30-year-old Dutchwoman defeated countrywoman Aniek Van Koot 6-0, 6-0 in just 47 minutes to win the women’s singles wheelchair event at the Australian Open on Saturday, keeping alive her astounding 444-match win streak.
It was Vergeer’s 20th Grand Slam singles title and ninth at the Australian Open, according to the International Tennis Federation. She also won the wheelchair doubles on Friday with her partner, 41-year-old Dutchwoman Sharon Walraven.
”I’ve already been telling myself I can lose any minute now because I know that some girls are a better player than me, maybe have better tennis skills than me, maybe have a better disability than me, maybe can put more pressure on the ball, but maybe don’t have the mental toughness or the experience,” Vergeer said after the match.
The last time Vergeer lost a singles match was in January 2003. Her opponents didn’t even get close to challenging her in Melbourne, either – Vergeer only lost four games in three matches.
Because she’s dominated wheelchair tennis for so long and won every accolade she possibly could – including five Paralympic gold medals – Vergeer is frequently asked how she stays motivated to continue competing.
Remarkably, she says she still sees room to improve her game. Plus, she takes seriously her position as a role model.
”This is just a great, awesome life that I’m living. It’s unbelievable that I’m able to play Grand Slams,” she said. ”Even if you have a disability, there’s so much that you can still do and a lot of people. By tennis, or by playing sport, it’s possible for me to spread that word.”
BLEEPED OUT: Luke Saville is starting to know what it’s like to be Novak Djokovic.
The 17-year-old Australian overcame a few jitters and the pressure of living up to his No. 1 junior ranking to defeat Canadian Filip Peliwo 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 to win the boys’ singles title at the Australian Open on Saturday.
Saville, who turns 18 on Feb. 1, is the first Australian boy to win his country’s slam since Bernard Tomic took home the trophy in 2008. Tomic, now 19, reached the fourth round of the men’s draw this year.
Saville also captured the Wimbledon junior title last year. He said being the No. 1 player – and a Wimbledon champion – added to the pressure in Melbourne this week, but he feels he lived up to the heightened expectations.
”It’s like, you know, everyone is trying to shoot Novak (Djokovic) down in the men’s,” Saville said after his match. ”He’s the top seed and best player in the world at the moment. I guess I’m the best junior in the world at the moment on rankings. Everyone is striving to beat me, like you would.
”I don’t mind the expectations and the pressure, and I’ve handled it well this week.”
He had just one slip-up on court Saturday – and it came after the match. In his speech to the crowd, he let fly a curse word.
”I’ll probably regret saying that word. But, yeah, you know, it was just the heat of the moment,” he said at his post-match news conference with a smile on his face. ”Lucky it wasn’t the other word.”