MELBOURNE—In the southeast corner of Show Court 2, the war cries came on every changeover.
“Come on Taylor, come on Taylor, come on Taylor.”
“Let’s go Taylor, let’s go Taylor, let’s go Taylor.”
There they sat, eleven young men. All were clad in white tennis clothes. One had a shirt that bore the iconic Fred Perry logo. Some still had braces. Yes, these were lads, teenaged boys thoroughly enjoying themselves on a summer day, doing what they could to cheer on the young American, Taylor Townsend. At one level, this made sense. Townsend, after all, had a history in Melbourne, having won the juniors here six years ago.
“Come on Taylor, come on Taylor,” they yelled in unison as she fought hard in the second set of her first round match versus No. 19 seed Magdalena Rybarikova. Townsend had lost the first set, 6-0, but had stayed even throughout much of the second. But at 5-all, a series of errors cost Townsend her serve.
The volume of cheers increased. One wondered if the boys appreciated Townsend’s versatile left-handed game; if not as skilled as their iconic native Rod Laver, then certainly ambitious in its pursuit.
“We love Taylor,” one of the boys informed me.
Then came the confession.
“Until yesterday,” said another, “none of us had ever heard of her.”
Josh Mueller, 16 years old, said, “We love underdogs. She was an underdog. We come here, get these seats and just love to root for players like Taylor.”
Did Josh and his mates play tennis? Scarcely. None had ever played a tournament.
Did the young man with the Fred Perry logo on his shirt know that Perry had been a tennis player?
Yes, he’d won the tournament back in 1934.
The troupe of lads all smiled at their mate’s ignorance.
“Taylor’s our favorite right now,” said Mueller.
But Townsend soon lost that final game.
The lads cheered her off, smiling, eager for the next match.
Of tennis’ four Grand Slam nations, none are as playful as the Australians. Leave the appreciation of artistry to the French, the regal cathedral to the Brits, the hunger for commerce to the Yanks.
“We’ll see you again,” said Josh. “Have a good day.”