- Sandra Harwitt
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MELBOURNE, Australia -- American teen Taylor Townsend found that Australia is her kind of place. Except, that is, for one aspect of life that the newly minted Australian Open champion hasn’t found quite palatable.
“It’s nasty,” she said, of Vegemite, a bread spread that Australians love but seems to make most Americans cringe. “I don’t like it very much. It’s disgusting and tastes like pickled salt. I’d rather have some Jiffy peanut butter.”
If not for Vegemite, the 15-year-old might be applying for Australian citizenship considering the double dose of “Good on You” Down Under luck she’s had in winning the junior girls’ singles and doubles title.
The doubles trophy already in her suitcase from the day before, the 14th-seeded Townsend took to the largest stage she’s ever played on -- Rod Laver Arena -- and closed out her trip with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over fourth-seeded Yulia Putintseva of Russia on Saturday afternoon.
The two finalists dissolved into tears after the match. For Townsend, it was an emotional reaction to success. For Putintseva, 17, it was disappointment in losing a second Grand Slam final having already contested for the 2010 U.S. Open junior girls’ title.
“Tears of joy,” said Townsend, smiling so broadly that she didn’t even think about flashing the gleaming braces she “hates.”
“I mean, it’s really exciting. It’s a dream come true for me. A lot of people supporting me, and my family are so proud. It was just a proud moment for me and the feelings kind of rushed in.”
Townsend is a powerful talent with a big lefty serve that delivered six aces during the 1-hour, 57-minute final. She also favors coming into the net -- a rare trait these days -- and won 18 of 29 points from the position. In contrast, Putintseva visited the net only six times, winning four of those points.
“She has a very mature game and she’s kind of growing into her body a little bit,” said Patrick McEnroe, the USTA’s General Manager of Player Development. “She’s still only 15, so I think physically she’s going to make a lot of strides in the next couple of years. Game-wise, she has an all-court game, a beautiful serve. …She’s not afraid to go for it when she has to, and she’s not afraid to come in and finish at the net.”
Townsend blasted her way through the opening set in just 23 minutes as Putintseva couldn’t find any rhythm on the court. But as often happens, the match turned in the next set as the Russian raced to a 4-0 lead. But toward the end of the second set, Townsend was rediscovering her form.
Initially, both players looked nervous at the outset of the third set and surrendered their opening serves. But then they settled in until Putintseva offered Townsend two break points on her serve in the eighth game. Townsend benefited from the second offering when the Russian made an unforced backhand error.
“She’s put a lot of work into her game,” said Kathy Rinaldi, her coach at the USTA Training Center. “She’s made a lot of sacrifices and I told her it will pay off for her. And it has paid off for her.”
Townsend is a confident young lady with an infectious personality. She already understands that an athlete needs to go into battle always thinking they’re capable of winning.
“Definitely when I got through the quarterfinals, I was like, ‘You know, you have three more matches and you can win this,’ ” said Townsend, who goes on court armed with a notebook with little reminders that she occasionally refers to during matches.
Now that the tournament is over, Townsend will finally get to do something that isn’t related to tennis.
All week long, Townsend’s been talking about a sightseeing trip to an animal sanctuary where you can hold koalas and pet kangaroos. Now she’ll be doing so as the Australian Open champion, who is taking home two trophies.
And a few other Australian Open mementos.
“I’m so happy I got a towel,” she said, noting she bought one at the official store.
The other four -- or, she admitted, maybe five -- towels she’ll bring home she helped herself to, as most of the players do.
“I was actually surprised that (when I went on court today) I saw four towels, like two towels on one seat, two towels on the other,” she added, smiling. “I was like, ‘Whoa, I’m gonna snag these. That’s exactly what I did.’ ”
Already a seasoned world traveler, Townsend has figured out that souvenirs earned, or those that come free, can be the most treasured keepsakes from a trip to remember for a lifetime.