DC’s Hailey Baptiste happy to be home at Citi Open


It’s been three years since Hailey Baptiste played a tournament in DC, but since her practice is used to tattoo the hard court at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center — site of this week’s Citi Open — Baptiste feels right at home.

For the DC native, Rock Creek Park was the backdrop for some of her most formative experiences — like when Baptiste, then 4, warned her father, Quasim, while giving him the case. with an adult size racquet. Or when friends of the family, who were working on the event, turned a blind eye as Baptiste slipped through the back entrance to watch some of the best play in the game at the Citi Open.

Or more specifically, when Baptiste, at age 17, seemingly announced her presence in women’s tennis by upsetting then-No. 17 Madison Keys in the first round of the 2019 Citi Open.

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“I don’t really believe in magic or things like that, but it’s hard to put into words what these courts and this city have meant to me and my career,” Baptiste said. “With all the familiar faces in the crowd, it’s like having home-court advantage or something. Good things always seem to happen to me here.

As the women’s side of the Citi Open return after a two-year hiatus, Baptiste will be hoping her home court advantage will lead to another formative experience on Monday as her first-round draw pits her against No. 7 Jessica. Pegula.

Baptiste, 20, finds herself in a very different position to the previous time she played in the nation’s capital. After knocking Keys down in 2019, she looked set for a trip to the upper echelons of the women’s rankings. But its growth has not been exactly linear.

Since turning professional full-time in January 2020, Baptiste has struggled to play consistently as the coronavirus pandemic upended schedules and nagging injuries kept her sidelined.

“It’s been a frustrating journey for me, to say the least,” Baptiste said. “When you dream of being a professional tennis player at the age of 9, you never consider the tough parts of that journey. You just assume it will be fine for you like it did for Serena. [Williams] Where [Rafael] Nadal. But being a pro is really tough, and every day presents a new challenge.

Baptiste’s biggest challenge is making enough money to break even. His No. 148 ranking doesn’t equate to a big payday after expenses are taken into account.

Without sponsorship, Baptiste was forced to make difficult sacrifices, such as sharing hotel rooms with other players, flying to tournaments at odd hours, occasionally skipping meals and going without a regular coach. .

Baptiste earned $175,288 in 2022, before taxes, but said he had to shell out more than $130,000 in expenses.

“Don’t get me wrong – I’m lucky to be a professional tennis player – but it’s impossible not to watch other sports and think about what life would be like as a top 150 player,” Baptiste said. “I chose this sport and I understand that you have to win to make money, so don’t think I’m here looking for sympathy or anything. [I’m] just tell you the reality of the sport.

Baptiste’s mother, Shari Dishman, cashed in thousands of dollars in inherited bonds and stocks and even dipped into her retirement fund to help keep her daughter’s dream afloat. At the same time, Baptiste’s father is his day-to-day manager.

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“For me, it’s a family affair,” Dishman said. “Before I had Hailey, I had planned to move to New York and work in the fashion industry. So I know what it’s like to give up on your dreams and have these nagging thoughts about this. that could have been. I will do whatever it takes to make sure my only child never has to deal with that.

Baptiste is not alone, said Martin Blackman, general manager of player development for the US Tennis Association. While the various tennis federations give financial aid to some players, making ends meet is a real worry for any player ranked outside the top 50.

“It’s tough at first because there are a lot of expenses…that tennis players have to consider as they navigate the lower levels of the professional circuit,” Blackman said. “Fortunately for Hailey, she has all the talent and ability to play major tournaments regularly, which over time will ease her financial burdens. We are confident that Hailey will become one of those top 50 players in the near future. .”

When healthy, Baptiste has already proven himself capable of being a top 50 talent. In May, she won three consecutive French Open qualifiers to reach the main draw before retiring in the first round due to injury.

“If I can just be healthy and comfortable, I know I’m capable of being one of the best in this sport,” Baptiste said. “I think being back in DC for the Citi Open and cooking at home is exactly what the doctor ordered.”

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