"I am excited about going to Paris and playing in the French Open. It's not like an opportunity was given to me ... I earned it," said Townsend, an Englewood resident and alumnus of Lenart Regional Gifted Center.
Townsend earned a wild card spot for the French Open, her first appearance in a grand slam tournament as a professional, by winning a qualification tournament on May 4. She's also a former world No. 1 in the junior rankings, winning the Austrailian Open girls single title in 2012 as a 15-year-old.
"My mom got me started playing tennis when I was 6," Townsend said. "She played tennis in college, but I never thought I would end up loving the game of tennis this much."
To build on Townsend's success, the nonprofit XS Tennis and Education Foundation, will break ground in September on a 112,000-square-foot athletic facility in the 5400 block of South State Street that would include 10 indoor tennis courts, a fitness center, running track and two basketball courts.
The vacant land is owned by the Chicago Housing Authority and sits next to ACE Technical Charter High School. The foundation also provides a mobile tennis program at 10 Chicago schools, which includes Murray Elementary Language Academy and Ariel Community Academy in Kenwood; Bret Harte Elementary in Hyde Park; and Ludwig Van Beethoven Elementary School in Bronzeville.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was joined by Kamau Murray, founder and president of XS Tennis, and Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose ward includes the new site, at Beethoven Elementary School to announce the $9.8 million center that will be built with $2.9 million in tax-incrementing financing.
Dowell said Bronzeville is an up-and-coming South Side community and the planned center is just another economic improvement being made to strengthen the community's future.
Emanuel said he sees the center as a way to open doors for youths.
"What I like most about this is program is that it exposes children to new opportunities besides tennis," Emanuel said. "What sold me with this project is that it supports what children do in the classroom."
As a result of inner-city youths traditionally focused on playing basketball, football and baseball, Murray said many tennis scholarships go unused each year.
"Tennis has created opportunities for females and males to go to college and further their education," Murray said.
Several athletes who earned tennis scholarships joined Murray at Beethoven. That included 19-year-old Adey Osabuohien, who attends Stony Brook University in New York on a tennis scholarship.
"XS Tennis did more than teach me how to be a tennis player. It taught me respect, honesty values and to fight for what you want in life," she said. "Young kids should definitely get involved in tennis because it's more than a sport. If you're good, it can be a career."
Beethoven Elementary Principal Shirne Jackson added: "We are always looking for opportunities in our own communities and this is one of them."