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Reality begins to sink in for Andrew Fenty the minute he exits the tennis court. He slings his tennis bags over his shoulders, closes the door to the chain link fence, and gazes down at the half-dozen familiar faces gathered in front of him outside the John A. Harris Grandstand court at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.
For these few moments, as he gives out hugs, high-fives, and fist bumps, he has trouble putting his emotions into words.
“I just lost and I’m still smiling,” he says as he walks toward the locker room. “That went way better than I thought it would.”
Fenty, the son of former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, had just made his debut at an ATP World Tour tournament in the first round of the Citi Open qualifiers after receiving a wildcard to play last week. And even though he lost in straight sets, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, to Mitchell Krueger, currently ranked 214th in the world, the 18-year-old from D.C. speaks as if he had just won the tournament.
The Citi Open hard-court tournament off 16th Street NW is just one of several stops for professional tennis players during the summer swing, but for Fenty and a few other local junior standouts, this warm Saturday afternoon in late July is one they’ll likely never forget.
Fenty’s twin brother, Matt, estimates there were about 40 friends and family members in attendance during the match, including their mother, Michelle, and grandparents.
“It means the world playing in front of your family, playing in front of your city,” says Fenty, who will play tennis at the University of Michigan in the fall. “It really doesn’t get much better than that.”
A half hour later on Court 1, teenagers Jordan Chrysostom and Trey Stinchcomb walk to their chairs to a roaring cheer from the packed crowd of friends, family members, teammates, neighbors, and coaches.
Not far behind them are their opponents, the towering duo of Daniil Medvedev (6’6”) and Ilya Ivashka (6’5”). Stinchcomb notices that both of them are smiling, as if to say, “What are we doing here with these kids?”
While Medvedev, ranked 60th in the world in singles, and Ivashka, ranked 128th, look like creations from a tennis lab, the teens from Maryland in mismatched outfits appear to have just wandered onto the court from a summer tennis camp.
“I wouldn’t say it was intimidating, but you’re a little scared going out,” says 16-year-old Stinchcomb of Olney, “but you just go out and have fun. Even though they’re really good, you play your best and go out there and have no regrets and just play within yourself.”
During the changeovers, the two share encouragements and notice the hundred plus fans that show up in support. When Chrysostom hits a volley winner to even up the score early in the second set, Medvedev and Ivashka can’t help but laugh. Despite winning, 6-3, 6-3, they admit the kids are no pushovers.
“They were playing good,” Medvedev says after the match. “I don’t know their level because I’m not a junior anymore so I cannot compare myself before to what they are now. But to me they were playing quite good.
“I thought they would be worse, honestly.”
Midway through the second set, Chrysostom, a 17-year-old from Bowie who is committed to play at Tennessee, runs to the trashcan behind the chair umpire and hunches over. A few in the crowd wonder aloud why the ballkids aren’t assisting him. A particularly concerned woman shouts, “Help him!”
It soon becomes clear that Chrysostom is about to throw up—and he does, drawing groans from the crowd but also a few laughs from his coaches.
“I was super nervous coming into the tournament, so I was hydrating a lot, making sure I wouldn’t die on the court, just water and Gatorade,” Chrysostom says. “I think it was more of the Gatorade that came out. I overhydrated—something that you don’t hear everyday, but it happens, so you have to learn how to get past it when it happens.”
Their coach at OSSA Tennis Academy, Vince Pulupa, calls the pair “late bloomers” and as he stands in hallway a short walk from the court, he has flashbacks of all the hard work they’ve put into training to reach the level they’re at now.
“These guys are still on the way up,” Pulupa says.
In the same hallway a few hours later, Bob Pass is consoling 16-year-old Natasha Subhash of Fairfax, who loses her match, 6-0, 6-1, to world number 198 Mayo Hibi of Japan, when someone walks by and asks how old she is.
Before long, Subhash is posing for a photo with her newest fan, 58-year-old Mark Cruce of Northeast D.C.
“Congratulations sweetheart. I mean to be your age and to be what you’re doing, [you should be] so proud. Your parents must be so proud,” Cruce tells her. “I’m going to find you and I’m going to be a fan. Good luck.”
The pain is still noticeably raw for Subhash, but she begins to take away the positives. This is a pro tournament, she realizes, and she made her WTA debut in front of dozens of family and friends.
“I’ve come here to watch a bunch of times, so it’s crazy to be playing here,” she says. “I mean, I wish I had won a few more games, obviously, but I feel like I did the best I could. Next time, I know what I have to do against players like that.”
As they prepare to leave, Pass, her 74-year-old coach and the founder of 4 Star Tennis Academy, tells Subhash that her performance has inspired him to get in shape so he can volley and train with her on the court before she competes in national junior tournaments and heads off to play for the University of Virginia.
“So she can beat that girl,” he says, bringing a smile to Subhash’s face.