At No. 1, Taylor Townsend is the highest-rated junior girls tennis player in the world. But the United States Tennis Association wants the numbers on Townsend's scale to go down, saying she needs to drop weight before the governing body will pay for her travel and tournament expenses.
"Our 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 player development program, told the Wall Street Journal. "We have one goal in mind: For her to be playing in [Arthur Ashe Stadium] in the main draw and competing for major titles when it's time. That's how we make every decision, based on that."
While the USTA refused to pay for the 16-year-old Townsends's travel and tournament expenses, it didn't stop her from competing in the U.S. Open as a junior.
The Chicago native was eliminated from the tournament by Estonia's Anett Kontaveit in the quarterfinals - a 4-6, 4-6 straight sets defeat.
The USTA's decision took Taylor's mother, Shelia Townsend, by surprise.
"It all kind of came as a shock to us because Taylor has consistently done quite well," she told the Wall Street Journal, adding that her daughter "is No. 1, not just in the United States, but in the world."
For her part, Taylor didn't disapprove of the USTA's move - at least not publicly.
"I've gotten a lot of great opportunities, great fitness, great coaching," she told the Wall Street Journal. "I'm doing everything that they ask me to do and being professional about everything."
The USTA's player development program is in charge of cultivating the next stars of American tennis. While the pro ranks have top talent in sisters Venus and Serena Williams, the men's side is lacking, especially with the recent retirement of Andy Roddick.
The USTA, with all the tough love it's giving Townsend, sees her potential as the next great hope for American women's tennis.
As pointed out by Sports Illustrated, Taylor was 15 when she beat a player twice her age to advance to the second round of U.S. Open qualifying in 2011. She also achieved a feat in American tennis that had not occurred since 1992, when Taylor won the singles and doubles junior titles at the Australian Open. Lindsay Davenport, who went on to become a top-tier pro, achieved those accomplishments at the 1992 U.S. Open.
The USTA's handling of Townsend drew controversy, although former No. 1 Mats Wilander told the Wall Street Journal that the governing body's tactic may work out for Taylor in the long run.
"You have to be fit underneath, I don't think you necessarily have to look ripped," Wilander said. "Smart players can get away with being a little tired."