When Serena Williams is both your confidante and competition, you know you're doing something right. 18-year-old Taylor Townsend can make such a claim, and even though she lost to Williams at the U.S. Open (only her third-ever Grand Slam tournament) last week, she's taking everything in stride.
During my own U.S. Open outing, I caught up with Townsend in the American Express Fan Experience lounge and was pleased to find that she's just as down-to-earth as following her on Twitter lead me to believe. Whether our topic-of-the-moment was Drake or Flash Tattoos (she asked me about mine before our interview), l felt like I was chatting with an old girlfriend, not the 103rd ranked women's player in the world.
Marie Claire: Serena Williams is a mentor, friend, and your competition – what's that like?
Taylor Townsend: If we're playing each other, we're opponents, but off the court we're really friendly. She takes the time to talk with me and give me advice. And with all she has going on, she really doesn't have to do that. It means a lot to me and it's been an honor to have her take me under her wing. But obviously as competitors, we both want to go out there and win. We want to give everything we have. In our match, she played unbelievable, so I had no problems after I walked off the court. I had my head held high.
MC: What are your feelings on the women's equal prize money debate?
TT: It's a very touchy situation. When we go to tournaments and we're both playing, we have the same conditions, pressures, and the men's prize? It's $2 million more than the women's — that's a lot of money — and often times we're competing the same amount of time, 2/3 sets. It should be equal prize money in most of the tournaments we play. I can understand [the argument] sometimes, when the men are playing 3/5 and we're playing 2/3 sets, but it's still a tournament of huge caliber that we're all working so hard for and putting in equal amounts of work and time. We're dedicating our lives to this. It's tough, but I know we have people in our sport who are working towards that, so I think in the future, it may happen.
MC: You're 18 on a world stage, what keeps you grounded day-to-day?
TT: My family! I was raised very well. We weren't poor, we weren't rich – we were middle class. My parents taught me how to be kind, humble, and respectful. That's how I've always lived my life. When I go to these big courts at these tournaments, I remember what's been engrained in me all these years. Plus, there have also been examples of people who aren't so humble and aren't very open or respectful towards the people that support them. I've seen it happen, and it's not positive. That's nowhere I want to be.
MC: Could you talk about your mom as your support system?
TT: My mom has been a huge factor in my life and tennis. She sacrificed a lot for my sister and I to be able to play, have the best opportunities, and achieve our dreams. Being 18, sometimes you go through those phases where you take your parents for granted, but I really do appreciate everything she's done because I know I wouldn't be here if it weren't for her.
MC: We know you're a music freak – who are some of your favorite artists?
TT: I don't really have a favorite artist – I mean, I really love Drake – but it depends on my mood. I like anything that makes me feel good.
MC: What's your favorite pre-court pump up music?
TT: Most of the time I'll listen to house, like Steve Aoki, and pop music that has that fast rhythm that'll get me going, you know? Dance and electro put me in a good state of mind. Sometimes I don't even need lyrics, I just need a good beat to get me in the zone.
MC: We hear you do some song-mixing in your spare time?
TT: I do! As I said, I love music, so I like to make mash-ups and mix songs. I'll slow tracks down or speed them up, change the tone and pitch. It's something that I love to do, but it also takes my mind off of everything else. It's kind of like an escape, but it's fun. When you finally get something together after hours of work and it's good, you know it's not for nothing!
MC: Have you thought about releasing anything?
TT: No way! Oh my god, I'd have to have years of practice before I'd release anything.
MC: Fair enough! What tennis players do you admire in terms of style (and we're not just talking clothes)?
TT: Serena for women and Federer for men! Federer is just so clean cut… I don't even know where to start with him. And then Serena, I always admire her dresses because they're cut so well for her body. I've worn a few and they look so good. She always has a dress that complements her body type, which is nice, because sometimes they just don't look good. And you want to feel good in it because it's important [on the court].
MC: What's one thing you think every woman should experience?
TT: Well, I'm really young, so I really can't say! [Laughs] If you guys interview me in 20 years, I can answer that question for sure.