From the Author

A Weighty Problem

Great champions often take our sport to a higher level. They do that simply by playing better than anyone ever has on a given surface, such as Rafael Nadal on clay, Roger Federer on grass, or Novak Djokovic on hard courts.


The sine qua non for all professional athletes is to stay in superb physical condition. In tennis, that crucial requirement cannot be violated without serious consequences. Very rarely has an overweight player won a Grand Slam singles title. Marion Bartoli did that at the 2013 Wimbledon chiefly because she had a very easy draw—never facing a top 15 player—and in the final, she defeated a very nervous Sabine Lisicki, who completely choked.

Women pros, far more often than men, have competed while being out of shape. Until the past 10 years, about 20 to 25 players ranked in the WTA top 100 typically have been overweight, compared to less than five in the top 100 for their ATP counterparts. Interestingly, several Americans, such as Jack Sock, Mardy Fish, Andy Roddick, and Taylor Dent have committed this cardinal sin.

The last three words of the title of my instruction book, "The Fein Points of Tennis: Technique and Tactics to Unleash Your Talent," are critical in this discussion. But technique and tactics, while two extremely important factors, aren’t the only ones that unleash your talent.

Mental toughness and physical fitness are also very important, particularly in pulling out long, close matches. The latter category is my focus today. LeBron James, who may go down as the basketball GOAT, reportedly spends $2 million a year to hone his 6’8.5”, 260-pound physique to sheer perfection. That tremendous fitness has enabled him to perform at an all-NBA 3rd Team level in his 20th season at age 38 and to help the Los Angeles Lakers reach the Western Conference final.

That requisite dedication, attention to detail, and hard work make the case of Taylor Townsend even more baffling. For athletic talent and shot-making skills, the 27-year-old American lefty ranks in the top 10, perhaps even in the top 5, on the WTA Tour. Taylor’s powerful and precise first serve, sharp volley, top-notch overhead, and topspin forehand are excellent, her backhand is solid for the most part, and her touch shots are very good. Her tactics are generally smart, though she occasionally lapses with a low-percentage shot.

Sadly, despite all these assets, it is no exaggeration to say Taylor has wasted her terrific talent. Ranked No. 168 now as she comes back after giving birth to a son in March 2021, Taylor’s career-high ranking is a modest No. 61, a far cry from what it should have been. She never reached a Grand Slam singles quarterfinal. Happily, she reached No. 6 in the world in doubles, where she now stands. Doubles doesn’t demand the level of fitness that singles does, but being overweight is a liability there, too. With the right partner and the right weight, Taylor could have won several Grand Slam titles in doubles, instead of none at the majors and only three overall.

Being overweight—she’s typically 20 to 30 pounds over her ideal playing weight—proves costly because it decreased her speed, agility, jumping, flexibility, and stamina. These major liabilities, especially lack of stamina, often make the difference between winning and losing close matches, especially long ones and on hot days.

So it was no surprise to this observer that she lost 6-2, 0-6, 7-5 to Wang Xiyu in the Internazionale BNL d’Italia round of 32, despite serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set. The lean, speedy, 22-year-old Chinese lefty cleverly mixed her shots, delivering topspin, flat and slice groundstrokes, while the hefty American faded and made unforced errors. Earlier in the tournament, Taylor upset No. 3 seed Jessica Pegula for her biggest career win.

For the past 10 years, one of the biggest “What ifs?” in women’s tennis has been: What if immensely gifted Taylor Townsend had worked hard in practice sessions, trained rigorously off the court, and eaten sensibly? (Her coach has advised Taylor to reduce her intake of carbohydrates.)

Unless Taylor dramatically changes her ways, we’ll never know what could have been.