By E.J. Crawford
Taylor Townsend entered 2012 largely unknown in international tennis circles, a promising teenager with an all-court attacking game who had, to that point, delivered her best success in doubles. Townsend ended the year as the No. 1 junior girl in the world—the first American girl in 30 years to hold the No. 1 position in the ITF World Junior Rankings at year end.
Townsend, 16, from Stockbridge, Ga., wrapped up the top spot by winning the doubles title (with fellow American Gabrielle Andrews) and reaching the singles semifinals at the season-ending Orange Bowl, one of the most prestigious events on the ITF junior calendar. Earlier this year, Townsend swept the girls’ singles and doubles titles at the Australian Open to become the first American girl to ascend to No. 1 since the ITF merged its singles and doubles rankings in 2004.
The last U.S. girl to finish the year at No. 1 was Gretchen Rush, who accomplished the feat in 1982. The last American boy to do so was Donald Young, who earned the top spot in 2005 to become the youngest-ever year-end No. 1 (16 years, 5 months) in the ITF junior boys’ rankings.
The effervescent Townsend trains at the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., with national coach Kathy Rinaldi and is known for taking the court with an assortment of rubber bracelets on her wrist and oversized bows in her hair. She said she never set out to finish the year at No. 1, instead focusing on improving her game to succeed at the next level.
"When I step out onto the court, I really just play tennis," said Townsend, who will turn pro beginning in 2013. "I mean, if I just play well and do what I know I can do, everything else will take care of itself."
Townsend’s double in Australia made her the first American girl to sweep a junior Grand Slam since Lindsay Davenport at the 1992 US Open. In addition, in 2012 Townsend won the girls’ doubles titles at Wimbledon (with Eugenie Bouchard) and the US Open (with Andrews) and captured the Easter Bowl singles title. Overall, Townsend posted astounding records of 35-8 in singles and 42-4 in doubles in ITF-sanctioned junior events in 2012, never losing before the round of 16 in singles or doubles in any of the 10 tournaments she entered