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Brienne Minor’s whirlwind summer culminates in US Open debut

NCAA singles champion earned a wild-card berth into main draw

NEW YORK — As NCAA singles tennis champion Brienne Minor signed autographs at the US Open Experience, a fan event held at the South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, Kevin Minor was standing maybe 10 yards away, acting every bit the role of a proud father. Each time his daughter posed for pictures at a table that included Hall of Famer Chris Evert, you could see his pride increase just a little bit more.

“I used to always joke that one of my three daughters would take me to a major tournament at some point,” he said. “And one of them finally did.”

Minor will play her opening-round US Open match on Tuesday against Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who is the 99th-ranked player in the world. The University of Michigan junior earned a wild-card berth into the main draw in May when she became the first African-American woman to win the NCAA Division I singles title.

Minor spent the summer preparing for her US Open debut. Just over a week ago, she played her first WTA singles match at the Connecticut Open, losing in straight sets to top-seeded Magdalena Rybarikova, who’s currently ranked No. 32.

“I did my best to try to get ready for this by playing in tournaments and training at the USTA facility in Florida,” Minor said. “I’ve been really trying to get some match play in against top competition so I can get a sense of what this will be like.”

Since arriving in New York, Minor’s been busy, involved in everything from the US Open Experience event to giving pointers to youngsters at the 2017 Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day event at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Minor’s hoping that by having multiple practice sessions and walking the grounds of the tennis center, she’ll be acclimated to the environment by the time she faces Jabeur on Court 10 on Tuesday.

“Right now, I’m just really superexcited to be here,” Minor said. “I don’t know the girl I’m playing against at all. Since I don’t know her, I’m just going to stick to what I do best, and that’s to just play my game.”

That’s what Minor did in May when, as an unseeded player, she mowed through the NCAA tournament field after overcoming a first-round match in which she played through leg cramps before winning in three sets. She won the championship match against the tournament’s No. 6 seed, Belinda Woolcock of the University of Florida, in straight sets (6-3, 6-3) to become not only the first African-American woman to win an NCAA Division I title but also the first African-American to accomplish that feat since Arthur Ashe of UCLA took the men’s title in 1965.

Minor had great role models on the way to her first Grand Slam. One sister, Jasmine, played tennis at Georgia Tech and will soon start her first professional job as a television reporter after graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Her oldest sister, Kristina, is the director of compliance at Rutgers University.

The entire immediate family will be in the stands of Court 10 on Tuesday.

“Brie’s been really relaxed going into the Open, but the rest of us have been anxious,” Jasmine Minor said. “On paper she’s unseeded, and a lot of people might be surprised that she’s here. But there was never any doubt in my mind that she would be here, and we all believe that she can accomplish anything she wants to when she puts her mind to it.”

Her father said he can’t predict an outcome for Tuesday. But he’s anticipating that this experience will serve as a launching pad for his youngest daughter.

“What I hope she gets out of this is a chance to measure herself against world-class talent,” he said. “I just want her to avoid being nervous, and to play her best. What I want to see her take away from this is to see how far off she is from the top competition.”

Minor struggled with knee problems at the end of her college season and had been hoping to take most of the summer off to rest for her junior year at Michigan. But winning the NCAA title changed all of that. Even though she didn’t get the rest that she anticipated, Minor says she feels fine going into Tuesday.

“I’m just going to give this my best shot,” Minor said. “This is all sinking in for me right now, that I’m about to play in the US Open. It’s a lot to take in, but I’m so happy to be a part of this.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.