Citi Open Is Homecoming For D.C. Native Baptiste

Hailey Baptiste (photo: Michael Dickens)

WASHINGTON, August 1, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Washington, D.C. native Hailey Baptiste has always felt right at home playing in the Citi Open, her hometown tournament, win or lose. On Saturday, the 20-year-old 148th-ranked Baptiste could walk to the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center from her childhood home to practice, take care of pre-tournament media obligations and sign autographs. It was like a homecoming for her with to celebrate with family and friends, a place Baptiste says she’s “super, super comfortable with.

“I’m excited to be here. It’s one of my favorite tournaments of the year.”

Monday afternoon on the John Harris Grandstand, the second-largest venue, Baptiste faced No. 1 seed Jessica Pegula, who three years ago won the Citi Open title. Pegula defeated Baptiste, 6-2, 6-2, in an hour and 13 minutes, converting four of nine break points and outpointing the young American 64-42.

In 2019, the same year Pegula won her first WTA title, Baptiste made headlines when, as a 17-year-old wild card, she earned an prime-time evening berth on the Stadium court – and beat then 17th-ranked Madison Keys, 7-6 (4), 6-2. It was her first career WTA Tour main draw victory.

“Growing up here,” Baptiste recalled during a media round table Saturday afternoon that included Tennis TourTalk, “coming to the tournament when I was younger, being in awe of all the players and now actually being one of the players, it’s just amazing.”

Looking back on that remarkable night, Baptiste smiled and said: “I’ll always have that memory when I step back on the court here. But I also think I’ve grown a lot as a person and a player. I’ve gone through a couple of pretty tough injuries and some other battles. Overall, I’m pretty happy with where I’ve come in the three years later.”

Baptiste and Pegula had met once before on the WTA Tour, last year in Berlin on grass, in which the young American was forced to retire at 6-all the first set with a partially-torn MCL. Fast forward to this year, Baptiste met injury fate again. She retired from her first-round match against Anhelina Kalinina at Roland-Garros with a sprained ankle after stringing together three qualifying draw wins.

Monday’s match against Pegula at the Citi Open marked Baptiste’s first competition since Paris, a tournament which she said she had targeted for her return. “This was the biggest target,” she said.

“You re-teach yourself certain things and get your timing back,” Baptiste added, looking forward to getting back on the court in a competitive situation, “but getting back into tournament mode and feeling the pressure again, those are things you have to get used to. So, it’s a definitely a challenge, but I’m excited to get going and it’s good that I get to do it in my home town where I’m comfortable.”

Pegula, for one, spoke positively of Baptiste during her pre-tournament press conference on Saturday. “I hope she can kind of find some time to really kind of evolve her game more because I think she’s got a great game,” she said.

“I know she’ll be getting up to play me, being the higher-ranked person. I know she’s going to want to play well. I’m used to people kind of lifting their level to play me. I think it will be really exciting but I think it’s a fun matchup, especially coming back to D.C. It will be fun.”

Afterward, in press, Pegula said: “It was definitely tough playing Hailey today. … Super nice girl, really talented, can play really well at times.

“Definitely a little nervous going out there, kind of feeling your way through the match. I thought I did a good job of applying pressure right rom the beginning, being able to break a couple of times early, keep that momentum with me. Got a little hot out there, but not too bad.”

Halep opens 2022 Citi Open with a win

No. 3 seed Simona Halep, making her first appearance at the Citi Open since 2017, opened tournament play on the Stadium court with a 6-3, 7-5 victory against 123rd-ranked qualifier Cristina Bucsa of Spain that lasted an hour and 20 minutes.

The World No. 16 from Romania hit four aces, won 73 percent of her first-serve points, converted five of eight break points and outpointed Bucsa 67-49 to advance against either American Madison Brengle or Anna Kalinskaya of Russia.

“It was not easy because always the first round is difficult,” Halep said during a post-match press conference. … But I’m really happy. I won the match and I can play another match here in Washington.”

Since Halep’s last trip to Washington, she has a new coach – Patrick Mouratoglou, who formerly coached Serena Williams for 10 years. The two paired together earlier this year after Halep’s long-time coach, Darren Cahill left.

“What can I say in this moment, it’s the best thing that could happen to me, to meet Patrick,” Halep said during a pre-tournament press conference. “He has super energy. He’s super kind. So, it means a lot for me to work with people like this.

“All his experience and all his advice are amazing. … He brought me back to love tennis, to love working, which never happened before. Now, I’m just giving my best every day. We don’t have expectations in order of results. We just have expectations to work hard and to improve.”

Although Mouratoglou is not with Halep this week in Washington – “He has kids, so he has to stay home, too,” quipped Halep – they will reunite in at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio in two weeks.

“We will see what we can do together,” Halep said.

Around the Citi Open

• The Citi Open is the ninth ATP Tour 500 event this year – and the third tournament in the US Open Series leading up to the US Open, which begins in four weeks. This year’s draw includes 2019 Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios, 2021 Citi Open finalist Mackenzie McDonald, 2018 Citi Open finalist Alex de Minaur, fresh off winning Sunday’s Atlanta Open, and 2006 Citi Open finalist Andy Murray.

Meanwhile, eight of the women’s Top 50 are in the field for the 10th edition of the WTA even, which returns after a two-year hiatus. Defending champion is World No. 7 Jessica Pegula. Among the top seeds are No. 2 Emma Raducanu and former World No. 1 players Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka.

Kyle Edmund of Great Britain, who entered the Citi Open using a protected ranking (48th) while currently ranked 639th, won his first ATP Tour match since 2020 (Cologne-2) and broke a four-match tour-level losing streak dating back to the 2020 US Open. The 27-year-old Edmund, a 2019 Citi Open quarterfinalist, defeated qualifier Yosuke Watanuki of Japan, 6-4, 7-6 (8) on John Harris Grandstand. Edmund struck nine aces and converted two of three break points during his two-hour win. He outpointed the 239th-ranked Watanuki 86-83.

Edmund, who returned to the ATP Tour after a 21-month absence due to injuries last week at the Winnipeg National Bank Challenger – and reached the second round –faces fellow Briton Daniel Evans, the 16th seed, in the second round.

• Twenty-four-year-old American Michael Mmoh qualified for the Citi Open for the first time after falling short in 2019 and 2021. Currently ranked No. 162, Mmoh brought in a 1-9 lifetime win-loss record against Top-100 players since the start of last year at all levels. On Monday afternoon, Mmoh faced No. 82 Denis Kudla, who was making his eighth main draw appearance in Washington. Although the Virginia resident brought a 6-7 record into this year’s Citi Open, he’s twice reached the quarterfinals (2018, 2021). After spotting Mmoh the first set, Kudla responded with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 win. He outpointed his opponent 89-87 to move into the second round against No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka.

Monday’s Citi Open ATP results

Monday’s Citi Open WTA results

Tuesday’s Citi Open order of play

By the numbers

No. 3 seed Taylor Fritz leads a contingent of 16 American men, most of any of the 18 countries represented in the men’s draw. Besides Fritz, there’s Jenson Brooksby, Maxime Cressy, Christopher Eubanks, Marcos Giron, Bradley Klahn, Sebastian Korda, Stefan Kozlov, Denis Kudla, Mackenzie McDonald, Michael Mmoh, Reilly Opelka, Tommy Paul, Jack Sock, Frances Tiafoe and J.J. Wolf.

“Quotable …”

“In this tournament I always love the atmosphere. The people are super nice to me. The vie is super friendly. It’s nice to play here. The heat is a little bit tough because we are not used to this humidity. But with days in a row, you get used to it. I love being here. I want to play as much as possible and to enjoy the time because everyone is nice.”

– World No. 16 Simona Halep of Romania, during her post-match press conference on returning to the Citi Open for the first time since 2017.