With both Venus and Serena Williams making early exits from the French Open, Americans looking for a rooting interest may want to turn to 18-year-old phenom Taylor Townsend.

After a three-set victory over 20th seeded Alize Cornet of France on Wednesday, Townsend became the youngest American to advance to the third round since 2003 when Ashley Harkleroad did it as an 18-year-old.

On paper, this appears to be just another step in Townsend's rapid upward trajectory. She won the 2012 Australian Open junior tournament and was a finalist at the 2013 Wimbledon junior tournament. In 2012 she was rated the top-ranked junior girl in the world.

But Townsend has also overcome an issue that most highly rated tennis players never have to confront -- her weight. In fact, United States Tennis Association officials became so concerned with her fitness that they refused to enter her in the 2012 junior U.S. Open. At the time Townsend was 5-foot-6 and weighed 170 pounds.

"... [the organization's] concern is her long-term health, number one, and her long-term development as a player," Patrick McEnroe, the general manager of the USTA's development program, said at the time.

Townsend paid for her own entry fee into the tournament and reached the quarterfinals. Shortly after the tournament, Townsend stopped working with her USTA coaches and hired Zina Garrison, a former Wimbledon finalist.

According to Garrison, Townsend's adversity has made her a stronger player.

“I think she couldn’t have asked for a better script,” Garrison told the New York Times of the weight controversy. “It’s made her tougher. She’s very good now at taking that negative and turning it into a positive. You can’t help but grow up in that situation.”

Townsend's unconventional serve-and-volley game has proved challenging for opponents to decipher, and her gritty style have earned her lots of fans.



For some teenagers, such a public ordeal over their weight would break them. But for Townsend, it did just the opposite.

“The biggest thing was just getting her to understand that she’s fine,” Garrison said. “Everybody doesn’t have the same shape of our bodies. She’s very clear on that now. I challenge over half of these girls out here to do some of the stuff that she does."

Townsend will face Carla Suarez Navarro in the third round.

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