Reese Brantmeier in action during a Junior Girls’ Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Tuesday, Sep. 7, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Courtesy Jed Jacobsohn/USTA)

Whitewater’s Reese Brantmeier headed for bright tennis career

By Michael J. Lewis

Correspondent

Sixteen-year-old Reese Brantmeier laughed at the question, because it seemed preposterous, but after the U.S. Open tennis tournament that happened recently, it wasn’t.

Brantmeier, a Whitewater native, is a precocious and talented tennis player, one of the best juniors in the world. Because of that, she was given a chance to play in the professional U.S. Open qualifying tournament, a week before the “main event” started, to try to make it into the women’s event.

There was another upstart in the qualifying, a girl only two years older than Brantmeier, named Emma Raducanu.

Brantmeier won two matches in the qualifying tournament and very nearly won a third, falling just short of a major accomplishment.

Raducanu won one more qualifying match than Brantmeier – and then improbably won the entire U.S. Open, the most stunning result in decades.

“So,” Brantmeier was asked, “if you’d won one more qualifying match, that would’ve been you winning the Open, not Emma, right?”

“Haha definitely,” Brantmeier said laughing, while talking by phone from a New York airport the evening of Sept. 12. “That was insane, what Emma did. Just crazy.”

OK, so maybe it would’ve been improbable for Brantmeier to win a Grand Slam title. But not that crazy in the near future, given her trajectory.

The blonde kid with the huge forehand and winning smile is rapidly coming closer to a pro tennis career, and there’s every reason to believe she’ll be a star sooner than later.

Just a few of the Whitewater teen’s accomplishments in the past year include the following:

  • Reached the third round of Junior Wimbledon in July;
  • Was the runner-up at the USTA 18s Nationals in San Diego in August, losing a close match to Ashlyn Krueger;
  • Defeated two pro opponents at the Open qualifying, including the former No. 35-ranked player, Olga Govortsova.

After nearly reaching the women’s draw, Brantmeier competed in the junior singles and doubles tournament. In singles, she was defeated by her doubles partner, Elvina Kalieva, in the second round.

But in doubles, Brantmeier and Kalieva advanced all the way to the finals on Sept. 11, before losing to the American duo of Krueger and Robin Montgomery.

“I obviously didn’t come here planning to lose, but there were a lot of positives I take away from the whole experience,” Brantmeier said.

“I won two matches in women’s qualifying, and I gained a lot of confidence in my game and showed I can hang with those kinds of players. I was definitely upset for a few hours after losing in qualies, but then I realized what a great experience it was,” she added.

For Reese and her mom, Becky, who was with her for the three weeks in New York, the past 18 months have seen their lives turned upside down, as has the rest of the world.

When COVID hit, Reese’s dad Scott, a family practice doctor in Whitewater, was incredibly busy with patients, while brothers Justin and Zach were home from college.

For the first time in a long time, Reese’s tennis travels stopped, and the whole family was back together in Whitewater.

“There weren’t any tournaments to go to; she’s not used to being home that much,” Becky said. “But it was good for all of us.”

After spending last spring at home, Becky and Reese moved down to the USTA Training Center, where they lived at a hotel and worked with top American coaches like Jermaine Jenkins.

For lots of people, following strict COVID protocols and being isolated for long stretches was a real issue. Not for Reese.

“She loved it!” Becky said. “She’s an introvert, so while other kids (at the USTA center) were complaining about having to go back to their rooms and be alone, she would take her five books and go to her room and be very happy for hours.”

In Orlando, Reese’s game developed to the point where she is now one of the Top 30 juniors in the world rankings.

“I think fundamentally she’s put together very well,” said Matt Cloer, one of Brantmeier’s coaches who was with her at the U.S. Open. “She’s got great variety, the ability to come forward (to the net), she’s got a great slice backhand (and) she drives her forehand very well. She’s such a hard worker and wants to get better, every day.”

With so much junior success early, of course many major Division I schools are interested in Reese, and it’s likely that soon top sports agents will be calling the Brantmeiers asking for her signature on a pro contract (Becky says there haven’t been many agent inquiries so far).

For now, Becky and Reese said she’s keeping college as an option, and therefore declining almost all of the $42,000 Reese won by making it to the final round of U.S. Open qualifying, to maintain her college eligibility.

But with so much success already – and Reese planning to play small pro tournaments this fall to judge her readiness for that level – it seems highly likely that going pro will be the next move for her.

Until then, small moments like what happened the first few days of the Open will still excite her.

“We had little kids spotting her and coming up to her and asking her to sign their giant tennis balls,” Becky said with a laugh. “And Reese was sure they didn’t know who she was, that they just saw someone carrying a lot of tennis rackets and figured they were a player. But then a few days later these pictures are popping up on the Internet and people saying, ‘I got a ball signed by Reese Brantmeier.’ That was very exciting for her.”

Michael Lewis is a freelance reporter who lives in New York.

 
 

No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment