DC’s Hayley Baptiste is happy to be home to City Open.

DC’s Hayley Baptiste is happy to be home to City Open.


Opinion

It’s been three years since Hayley Baptiste last competed in D.C., but her experience tattooed the hard court floor of the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center — the spot she was spotted this week. Citi open – Baptiste feels like home.

For the D.C. native, Rock Creek Park has been the backdrop for some of her most formative experiences — such as when Baptiste, then 4, gave her dad the business with an oversized racquet to put him in a commercial. Or they turned a blind eye as family friends who were making the arrangements snuck in through the back entrance to watch Baptist play the best of the game at the City Open.

Or especially when Baptiste announced her participation in women’s tennis as a 17-year-old girl In frustration, then-No. 17 Madison Keys First round of the 2019 CT Open.

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

In the return of the women’s Citi Open after a two-year hiatus, Baptiste hopes her home-court advantage will lead to another constructive experience on Monday as she faces No. 7 Jessica Pegula in the first round.

The 20-year-old Baptiste finds herself in a different position than she has played in the nation’s capital before. In the year After lifting the keys in 2019, she looks set to make her way to the top of the women’s rankings. But her progress was not exactly straightforward.

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

“It’s been a frustrating road for me to say the least,” Baptiste said. “When you dream of becoming a professional tennis player when you’re 9 years old, you don’t know the hardships of that journey. You can imagine that it will go for you just like it did for Serena [Williams] Or [Rafael] Nadal But being a professional is tough, and every day brings a new challenge.

Baptist’s biggest challenge is making enough money to break even. Her rank of 148 does not equate to a huge salary after accounting for expenses.

With no sponsorship, Baptiste was forced to make some serious sacrifices, such as sharing hotel rooms with other players, leaving for tournaments at odd hours, skipping meals from time to time and going without a regular coach.

Baptiste said it earned $175,288 before taxes in 2022 but will have to spend more than $130,000.

“Don’t get me wrong — I’m blessed to be a professional tennis player — but it’s impossible not to look at other sports and wonder what life is like for 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] Let me just tell you the facts of the sport.

Baptiste’s mother, Shari Dishman, has accumulated thousands of dollars worth of heirloom bonds and stocks, and even invested in a retirement fund to protect her son’s dreams. At the same time, Baptiste’s father serves as her day-to-day manager.

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“It’s a family thing for me,” Dishman said. “Before I had Hailey, I had planned to go to New York and work in the fashion industry. So I know what it’s like to give up on your dreams and hold those pesky thoughts of what could have been. I will do whatever it takes to make sure my son never has to deal with this.

Martin Blackman, general manager of player development for the US Tennis Association, said Baptiste is not alone. While various tennis federations provide financial assistance to players, making ends meet is a serious concern for a player over 50.

“It’s a tough journey at the beginning because there are a lot of expenses … tennis players have to take into account when they go through the lower levels of the pro circuit,” Blackman said. “Fortunately, Haile has the skills and ability to become a regular at major tournaments, which will ease her financial burden in the long run. We believe Hailey will be one of the top 50 players in the near future.

When healthy, Baptiste has shown he can be a top-50 talent. At the French Open in May, she won three straight qualifiers to reach the main point before retiring with an injury in the first round.

“I know if I can get healthy and comfortable I can be one of the best in this sport,” Baptiste said. “I think coming back to DC for the City Open and some home cooking is just what the doctor ordered.”

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