© Ella Ling

Flushing Meadows

Five tennis weight-loss controversies


Five tennis weight-loss controversies: 

Taylor Townsend, the junior world number one, has been told by the United States Tennis Association that she must lose weight. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the USTA didn’t want Townsend to play the junior US Open: “Her coaches declined to pay her travel expenses to attend the Open and told her this summer that they wouldn’t finance any tournament appearances until she makes sufficient progress in one area: slimming down and getting into better shape.”

When Serena Williams arrived in Melbourne for the 2007 Australian Open, there were stories about the size of her bottom on the television evening news. She would win the tournament. “The criticism that hurt the most was that I wasn’t fit. I felt that I was really fit. I felt that people said I wasn’t fit because I’m larger in some areas than other girls. I don’t have a flat chest, I don’t have a flat ass. But I was looking in the mirror today. My waist is still 28 inches and I think it’s all because I have a large bosom and a large ass. If I lost 20 pounds, I’m still going to have these knockers – forgive me – and I’m still going to have this ass. It’s just the way it is.”

“For a female athlete to be overweight, now that’s seen as the worst thing in the world,” Zina Garrison, a former Wimbledon champion and “recovering bulimic”, once said. She has suggested that the obsession with image could lead to players developing eating disorders. For many years during her career, the American was far from being a healthy-eating athlete. Bingeing on junk food and then making herself throw it all up again became as much a part of her daily routine as picking up her rackets and hitting balls on the court. She had never been comfortable with her looks, and her bulimia was brought on by her long-held belief she was too heavy, and then the distress, when she was 19, of her mother’s death. Her self-loathing reached the point where she attempted suicide in 1999.

David Mercer, a commentator for the BBC, suggested on air during the 2010 Wimbledon Championships that Laura Robson needed to lose some “puppy fat”. “I suppose the one thing I have at the back of my mind at the moment, is Laura mobile enough around the court? Perhaps a little puppy fat at the moment, the sort of thing you’d expect her to lose, as she concentrates on tennis full time.” Robson’s mother Kathy responded: “She doesn’t have any fat to lose. She is still growing. You can’t touch her weight at that age.” Mercer later apologised for his remarks.

Daniela Hantuchova, who was once forced to deny she was anorexic, posed naked for this summer’s ESPN Body Issue. “In my sport, I’m not the most physical girl out there. I can work really hard lifting weights and I do, but it just doesn’t show that much. I’m really lucky that I can eat pretty much anything and I don’t know where it goes. I burn a lot because I work so much on the court, but I don’t watch calories.”