Reese Brantmeier returns a shot during one of her victories in the U.S. Open junior tournament in New York last week. (U.S. Tennis Association photo)

She reaches quarterfinals of U.S. Open tournament

By Michael J. Lewis

Special to the Register

Whitewater’s Reese Brantmeier, 14, is amazing at hitting a tennis ball.

The cheerful, bright teen is happy to talk about her favorite sport and her sensational year climbing the ranks of the top junior players in the country.

But what she really loves? Talking about a television show that went off the air six years before she was born.

Brantmeier loves “Seinfeld.” Loves, loves, loves it. Can’t watch it enough. Has all the DVDs, knows every episode, can tell you all about George Costanza’s neuroses, Kramer’s bizarre behavior and all the rest.

“My favorite episode? I don’t know, they’re all so great I can’t choose,” she said this past week at the U.S. Open in New York. “I guess maybe I’d say the ‘Soup Nazi’ one, but there are a lot of great ones.”

When she’s not hanging out watching those four wacky New Yorkers on a show about nothing, Brantmeier has been awfully busy on the tennis courts.

Since recovering from an injury, she’s been on a tear, winning matches at the junior and minor-league women’s pro levels.

After capturing the USTA National Championships in the girls 16 division in early August, Brantmeier was invited to play in the U.S. Open junior tournament, which just concluded this past weekend in Flushing Meadows, New York.

She won three matches to advance to the quarterfinals, but Saturday she fell to fellow American Alexandra Yepifanova, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.

“It was really frustrating because I wasn’t able to hold my serve in the second set, and then in the third set I was trying to stay positive but was struggling with that,” Brantmeier said.

Despite the defeat, there’s no doubt Brantmeier is on an upward trajectory.

While Brantmeier was beginning to get known in junior tennis circles before this year, her results and status have soared since she recovered from a broken right wrist and had to miss three months of playing time in early 2019.

“She told me that she knew she loved tennis but didn’t realize how much she needed it,” said Reese’s mom, Becky. “Since she came back, it’s just been crazy, how fast everything is happening and how well she’s doing.”

“Her fitness really got so much better when she was out,” said John Reed, her coach at Lake Geneva Tennis Club. “Just not being able to play gave her more time in the gym, and when she came back and was able to play she was that much more intense and that much better.”

Brantmeier, who turns 15 on Oct. 5, has played several ITF women’s pro events this year, getting to the quarterfinals of two events.

But she really had her sights set on winning the USTA National 16s tournament in San Diego in early August, which if she did well would get her to New York for the U.S. Open juniors tournament.

And she won the whole thing, stamping her ticket to the Billie Jean King National Tennis     Center here. In 2018, Brantmeier lost in the qualifying tournament for the junior Open.

“That’s been a dream of mine for so long, to win a Gold Ball (elite tournament),” Brantmeier said. “It put my confidence through the roof.”

While winning in San Diego wasn’t a shock, what happened two weeks later was. Reed was scrolling through Twitter one day while Becky Brantmeier was putting Reese on a plane to play an ITF tournament in Washington, D.C.

Suddenly, his eyes almost popped out of his head: Reese had been given a wild card into the U.S. Open women’s qualifying event, the pro tournament that precedes the Open and sends 16 lucky winners into the main draw.

“I had to call the USTA and I was like, ‘Did I put my daughter on the wrong plane? Is she supposed to go to New York now?’ said Becky Brantmeier with a laugh. “It was crazy and exciting and totally unexpected.”

In her first-round qualifying match on Aug. 19, Brantmeier took the first set of former world-ranked No. 55 Denisa Allertova before losing, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

“That was an amazing experience I’ll never forget,” Reese Brantmeier said. “I definitely didn’t expect the opportunity to play in the women’s qualifier, but I’m super thankful I got the chance.”

Seeing what it takes to play at the pro level was what Brantmeier was most grateful for.

“It was fantastic to see that level, because I’ve never played at that high of a level before, and that’s where I hope to be when I’m older,” she said. “Now I have a clear picture on what I need to work on and improve.

“Everyone at that level is so focused and deliberate, and they don’t give you anything (on the court),” she added. “I can see myself being there. I just need to keep being more consistent.”

Jean Desdunes, one of the USTA development coaches in Orlando who works with Brantmeier about once a month, said her progress has been unmistakable.

“She has the discipline and her foundation really is solid,” Desdunes said in a phone interview. “It’s happened really fast, but sometimes that’s how it goes. I don’t think there’s a coach here who has watched her who wouldn’t say she’s got a real chance to be a good pro.”

As she progressed through the draw here at the U.S. Open, many spectators commented on Brantmeier’s fashion choice of wearing knee-high socks. Ironically, the women’s tennis player who made that look famous, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, also is from Wisconsin, spending part of her childhood in Neenah.

“People kept calling her ‘Bethanie’ and Reese had no idea why, until she looked her up online and saw her,” Becky Brantmeier said. “When they finally met, Bethanie asked Reese ‘Are you doing that just because I’m here?’ And Reese pulled her sock down and showed Bethanie her tan line and Bethanie was like “Oh, this is real!’”

With the U.S. Open behind her, Brantmeier plans to play more ITF-level pro tournaments this fall and hopes to compete in Junior Grand Slams, such as the French Open and Wimbledon, in 2020.

“Now I finally get to go home, though, which is exciting since I haven’t been home in awhile,” Reese said with a smile. “I hope to take the experiences I’ve had here and keep getting better.”

 
 

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