There is an all-American match in the second round on Wednesday that many will not have anticipated. Sofia Kenin had a tough enough task against former French Open Champion Jelena Ostapenko. Her next opponent, 19-year-old Hailey Baptiste, just won her first-ever main draw match in the previous round against Anna Blinkova. But don’t underestimate Baptiste.
Do My Eyes Deceive Me Or Is This A U.S. Clay Court Specialist I See Before Me?
Baptiste is something of a rarity in U.S. tennis. She has nominated her favorite court surface on the ITF website as clay. Her results back this up, too. She has an ITF-level victory on the surface and her junior record is littered with trips to South America and even Europe to play in some clay-court events.
The Washington, D.C. native has a senior career very much in its infancy. She is now ranked #164 in the world after having reached a junior ranking of #38. As such, 95% of her results at senior level have come in the U.S. Even so, she has managed to find an abundance of clay-court tournaments to participate in.
Her first senior ITF title was won on the dirt in January 2019 as a 17-year-old. She defeated Anna Bondar of Hungary in a three-set epic at ITF Plantation in Florida. Though this was quickly backed up with two further $25k tournament wins on hard-court, and at that stage in 2019 it felt like Baptiste was on the verge of a big breakthrough.
The pandemic clearly stalled her momentum, but this week has been huge for Baptiste. Her impressive run through qualification included a defeat of Claire Liu, whom she had lost to only a couple of weeks before. This demonstrates great problem-solving skills and also good big-match management.
While it is very early to say that Baptiste will go on to great things, there are definite building blocks there for a good professional career. She has a winning record on both clay and hard courts so can earn good ranking points all year round. She is still a teenager so there are many more technical and physical improvements to come.
The Clash With Kenin
The match against Sofia Kenin provides an excellent yardstick for her. Though the dirt probably isn’t Kenin’s best surface, the older American is a recent Grand Slam champion and, of course, last year’s Roland Garros finalist. Though she beat Ostapenko it was a grind of a match and Kenin will be hoping for improvement in the second round.
Kenin became part of a sparsely populated club when reaching that French Open final in 2020. Only Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens, and Jennifer Capriati from the U.S. have made the French Open final this century. Of those, only Capriati (2001) and Serena (2002, 2013, and 2015) have won it.
While it would be a very ambitious call to say that Hailey Baptiste would be able to follow in those footsteps, she at least enjoys playing on the surface. If she can continue to build on her positive first steps on European clay, then who knows what may lie ahead of this talented young woman.
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