Serena plays young Townsend in symbolic U.S. Open opener

Sat Aug 23, 2014 6:41pm EDT
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By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Serena Williams, who opens her quest for a third successive U.S. Open title with a meeting against fellow African American Taylor Townsend on Tuesday, said Arthur Ashe would have been proud.

On Arthur Ashe Kids' Day that drew legions of young hopefuls to the National Tennis Center on Saturday, Williams pondered the significance of her clash against the 18-year-old Townsend and the legacy of Ashe, whose name graces the center court stadium.

"I think he would say it's a great opportunity to see a veteran American player play the future of American tennis," 32-year-old Williams told reporters about her match against the 2012 Australian Open girls' champion.

"He was such an amazing guy. I had an opportunity to meet him. So I think he would be really proud and honored to see so many young African-American players... doing so well and playing so hard and just being role models for the next generation."

Williams said she took a lot from the example set by Ashe, a three-times major winner who claimed the U.S. title in 1968, and died in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia.

"I believe he had a great positive spirit," said the world number one. "You know, you have to go through what he went through. He had an incredibly positive spirit and just a positive outlook on everything.

"Obviously I didn't get to know him. I was incredibly young when I met him and it was ever so brief, but his legend absolutely lives on."

The top seed said playing Townsend would be special.   Continued...

Aug 16, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Serena Williams (USA) returns a shot against Caroline Wozniacki (not pictured) on day six of the Western and Southern Open tennis tournament at Linder Family Tennis Center.  Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports