PARIS -- For all the statistics that gird that the Roger Federer --
Rafael Nadal rivalry, this one gets us every time: they are the exact
the same weight. Wait. How can they each weigh 187 pounds? Their bodies
are completely different. Just look at their arms. Federer's have the
circumference of car antennae. Nadal looks like he wears muscles as a
fashion statement. Those 187 pounds are distributed in such different
Oh, and they're the same height, too, 6-1 or 185 centimeters. This, too,
doesn't seem right. To the naked eye, Federer appears taller. Even the
unfortunate animal metaphors imply difference. Nadal is the bull,
burrowing low to the ground; Federer, we're so often told, has that
Add this to the list of tennis' virtues: it can accommodate such a wide
swatch of physiques and body types. Ivo Karlovic and John Isner -- both
still in the 2014 French Open field, as I write this -- are worthy of an
NBA front line, standing 6-10 and 6-8 respectively. Meanwhile, David
Ferrer, who reached the finals last year, wouldn't look out of place
riding atop California Chrome. With extreme generosity, Ferrer is listed
at 5-9, 160 pounds. The differences might be even more pronounced in
the women's game. At 5-3, Dominika Cibulkova, the No. 9-seed who lost to
Sam Stosur in the third round, would be in the front row of the class
photo. At 6-2, Maria Sharapova, the No. 7-seed, would be in the back
row. If the media guides are to be believed, they are in the same weight
Which brings us to Taylor Townsend. The 18-year-old from Atlanta has
been one of the week one revelations of this tournament, reaching the
third round with a funky and sometimes dazzling display of tennis.
Here's Andy Murray's assessment: "I love the way she plays. This is a
player who has a lot of talent. A talent that is rarely seen, either in
men or in women."
NGUYEN: What you need to know about Taylor Townsend
One passing glance at Townsend and it's clear that she takes the
stereotype of what a tennis player "should" look like and doesn't just
shatter it; she then grinds it into fine, red clay. Still, observers
have gone to extremes not to mention Townsend's physique. There's
history here, of course. The USTA's clumsiness on this topic two years ago created a p.r. fiasco that persists.
"Just don't go there," one producer was overheard telling an announcer.
With some trepidation, we'll try the opposite tack and go there.
There's something that is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, dishonest about declaring the topic off-limits for discussion.
"We would never be talking about this if [Townsend] were a man," a former champion argued to me.
Totally disagree. Not only would we. We do. All the time. The NFL
combine is basically a livestock show, where potential investors poke
and prod and measure physical attributes of the specimens on display.
The first day in any sport's training camp doubles as an opportunity to
assess which players worked out in the offseason and which haven't. Even
in tennis, bodies are on the table for discussion. Sharapova and Murray
needed to add body mass; Mardy Fish needed to lose some.
In sports -- women's sports especially -- weight is coded as "fitness,"
as if to emphasize that we're not talking leeringly about looks or
aesthetics, but, rather, performance. It's a work-related. Fine, but
then we must make this point about Taylor Townsend: the evidence that
her physique hinders her tennis is scant at best. In her second round
match, she played 30 games over three sets and almost two-and-a-half
hours against France's Alize Cornet (who goes 5-8, 139 pounds) Townsend
won thrillingly, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 and was hardly winded.
What about her movement? Cornet hit the ball past Townsend 18 times.
Townsend hit the ball past Cornet 43 times. What about back-to-front?
Taylor went to the net 30 times and won 21 points. How much better would
she be if she got fit, you ask? Says here, that's a faulty premise.
We're not convinced she's unfit.
Today, there was little magic left in her wand. In barely an hour, she
fell 6-2, 6-2 to Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain. She sprayed shots and
made questionable decisions and missed one shot so badly she laughed out
loud. But it wasn't because of compromised mobility or stamina.
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