22-year-old Taylor Townsend has had quite the year. The Chicago native took home the doubles title at the inaugural Oracle Challenger Series – Indian Wells WTA 125k event in March, and carried that momentum into one of the most successful summers of her young career.
Since March, Townsend has won three ITF singles titles (Dothan, Charleston, Sumter); reached a career-high WTA singles ranking of No. 61; dominated the World TeamTennis (WTT) circuit, including garnering Female MVP honors; and made a triumphant return to her hometown Windy City to play in the first professional tennis event in Chicago in decades.
Townsend, currently ranked World No. 62, is exactly the type of player that the Oracle Challenger Series is intended to benefit. The Series launched in January 2018 as a way for up-and-coming tennis players, in particular Americans, to gain valuable match experience, prize money and ranking points at home in the States. As an added bonus, the top two American men and women (in total points accumulated) receive wild cards into the main draw of the BNP Paribas Open, one of the most highly-regarded tournaments on Tour.
“The Oracle [Challenger] Series is really, really awesome,” Townsend said before a WTT one-night event at the XS Tennis Village in Chicago last month. “I think the concept is amazing, and I’m glad that someone who has a passion for tennis is doing something and actually taking the steps to build more tournaments and give us opportunities to play more, especially here in the United States. A majority of our schedule is overseas, so he’s bringing tennis…to different places here, giving us opportunities to play tournaments and I think that it’s awesome.”
Townsend entered the singles draw at both Oracle Challenger Series events earlier this year, bowing out in the first round at each. She would go on to enter the qualifying draw of the BNP Paribas Open and win her way into the main draw, before falling to fellow Oracle Challenger Series success story, Danielle Collins.
“I really commend [Mark Hurd] for not only doing what he did at Indian Wells, but trying to spread it around the country and giving people a chance to play and have tournaments and having somewhere to go,” Townsend said. “And to win the tournament in the first year, that was also really special.”
And what does she think of the Series coming to Chicago in just a few weeks – making it the first professional tennis tournament in the Windy City since the 1990s?
“I’m excited – I love it.”
Townsend spent the early years of her childhood learning the game of tennis on Chicago’s public courts under the tutelage of XS Tennis founder / CEO Kamau Murray, who now coaches fellow American and 2017 US Open Champion Sloane Stephens. The Chicago tournament will be a joint ATP Challenger Tour/WTA 125K Series event and pay equal prize money ($150,000 per Tour) for a total of $300,000. The event will be free and open to the public.