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Quasim Baptiste struggled to wipe the smile off his face. Wearing a red Washington Nationals cap, Baptiste stood in the back of Citi Open media center and watched as his 17-year-old daughter, Hailey, held her first press conference.
“She did pretty good,” says Baptiste. “Not bad. That was literally like her first press conference. She might have done some junior [tennis] stuff, but as far as on this stage, that was her first one. She did pretty good. She could’ve talked a little better about me though, but she’ll get a pass for that.”
About an hour earlier, Hailey Baptiste scored the first WTA victory of her young career, defeating the No. 2 seed and former world No. 7 Madison Keys, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2,in the first round of the Citi Open (a tennis tournament managed by City Paper owner Mark Ein). Hailey won on a day that saw losses by 15-year-old phenom Coco Gauff and former Citi Open champion Sloane Stephens.
“Oh my god, it was amazing,” Quasim says. “I had chills the whole time.“
The win also had extra meaning for the Baptiste family because Hailey was born and raised in Northwest D.C., just five minutes away from the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, the site of the tournament. She started playing tennis with the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation, which is the beneficiary of the Citi Open, before training at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park.
She’s been coming to the Citi Open for years and has fond memories of getting Gael Monfils’ autograph and watching her close friend Frances Tiafoe play on stadium court.
“I’ve been coming to this tournament since I was, like, training here,” Hailey says. “I guess since I was five years old. I used to always sneak in. I never really bought tickets. I’d sneak in behind the back fences. I knew some of the people that worked here. They let me in the back gates. I’ve been coming here since it was the Legg Mason [Tennis Classic], and there were no women playing. So it’s really cool to get a chance to play on the same stage.”
After the match, Keys greeted Baptiste at the net with a playful head rub. Both train down in Orlando at the United States Tennis Association National Campus. “I guess it was kind of like a big sister kind of rub,” Hailey says.
As Hailey walked through the throng, fans chanted her name. She took her time pausing for selfies and autograph requests.
She plays Wednesday night against Kristina Mladenovic of France in the last match on stadium court.
But before that happens, her dad says he’s going to watch the Keys match again.
“So I can really watch the match,” Quasim explains. “Half the time my hands were in my face. But it was amazing, man. It was beautiful to watch.”