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

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It’s been three years since Hailey Baptiste last played a tournament in DC, but as her practice tattoos the hard-court surface of Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, home of this week’s Citi Open, Baptiste feels like she’s at House.

For the DC native, Rock Creek Park has been the backdrop to some of her most formative experiences, like when Baptiste, then 4, tipped off her father, Quasim, while handing him the business with a racquet-sized racket. adult. Or when friends of the family, who were working the event, turned a blind eye when Baptiste slipped through the back entrance to see some of the Citi Open’s best plays.

Or more notably, when Baptiste, as a 17-year-old, seemingly announced her presence in women’s tennis by defeating 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 happen to me here.”

With the women’s portion of the Citi Open returning after a two-year hiatus, Baptiste hopes 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 himself in a very different position than the last time he played in the nation’s capital. After defeating Keys in 2019, she seemed ready for a trip to the upper echelons of the women’s rankings. But her growth hasn’t been exactly linear.

Since turning pro full-time in January 2020, Baptiste has consistently struggled to play as the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted schedules and nagging injuries have kept her on the sidelines.

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

Baptiste’s biggest challenge is earning enough money to cover expenses. Her No. 148 ranking doesn’t equate to a huge salary after accounting for expenses.

Without sponsorships, Baptiste has been forced to make some tough sacrifices, like sharing hotel rooms with other players, traveling to tournaments at odd times, occasionally skipping meals and being without a constant 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 look at 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] simply telling you the reality of the sport”.

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

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“For me, it’s a family affair,” Dishman said. “Before I had Hailey, I 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 those lingering thoughts about what could have been. I will do whatever it takes to make sure my only son never has to deal with it.”

Baptiste isn’t alone, said Martin Blackman, general manager of player development for the US Tennis Association. While the various tennis federations provide financial assistance to some players, making ends meet is a real concern for any player. player ranked outside the top 50.

“Initially it’s difficult because there are a lot of expenses … that tennis players have to take into account when navigating the lower levels of the professional circuit,” Blackman said. “Fortunately for Hailey, she has all the talent and ability to regularly participate in the biggest tournaments, which will lighten the financial burdens on her over time. We believe that Hailey will become one of those top 50 players in the near future.”

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

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

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