Brienne Minor, Following in Family’s Footsteps, Reaches the Big Stage

The highlight to date was passing Roger Federer in the hallway.

“I kept looking back to see if he was really still there,” she said.

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An undated photo of Brienne Minor, center, with her sisters, Kristina, left, and Jasmine. Kristina was entering her freshman year at the University of Illinois, where this photo was taken.

Her other brush with greatness: “I said ‘Hi’ to Venus and she said ‘Hi’ back.”

Minor, 19, draws the line when it comes to asking for an autograph.

“I’m trying not to act like a tourist,” she said.

Minor grew up in the Midwest instead of at a warm-weather tennis academy and went to college on a tennis scholarship, as did her two older sisters.

Her sister Kristina Minor, 28, competed at Illinois, earned her law degree at Marquette and is now a director of athletic compliance at Rutgers. Her other sister, Jasmine Minor, 24, played at Oregon and recently completed her graduate degree at the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism, serving as a college tennis sideline reporter and analyst for ESPN3 during her final semester.

The family’s love for tennis was passed on like a treasured heirloom. The sisters’ maternal grandfather, James Minnefield, paved his own path in Anderson, Ind., becoming his high school’s first black tennis player in the 1950s. A generation later, his daughters became the first African-Americans on the girls’ tennis team.

One daughter, Michelle, met her husband, Kevin Minor, at Purdue; both became engineers and raised their children in Mundelein, Ill. All three generations are here to watch a Minor play in the family’s first Grand Slam tournament.

“Tennis is the type of sport that creates a dysfunctional experience for a lot of families,” said Mark Bey, who coached all three Minor sisters. “You miss holidays. You get obsessed with winning and losing, and you live and die with all of the matches. Very few tennis families make it through the junior process able to keep the moral fabric together. The Minors made it through the treacherous waters of junior tennis and college tennis and have always kept the class.”

The Minors crisscrossed the country for junior competitions. An Excel spreadsheet attached to the refrigerator kept the complicated schedule in order. Holidays were spent on the road, together at tournaments, with Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving dinners at a Denny’s or a Cracker Barrel or whatever else was open. The family Suburban racked up 70,000 miles annually, and when the girls flew to different tournaments, their parents tried to book flights with layovers at the same airport.

“When I was playing and traveling, Jasmine was a tiny tot, so she got dragged around to my tournaments,” Kristina Minor said. “Then Bri comes along and she gets dragged to Jasmine’s tournaments and my tournaments. My parents became really good at the shuffle, with this kid in school, this one playing in Michigan and another one in Florida. They would swap so each could be with every kid. My parents are rock stars.”

Brienne absorbed every court squeak and overhead smash.

“She always seemed the most natural, the way she moves so smoothly on the court,” Kevin Minor said. “The result of all those years of watching tennis, hitting the ball against wall, waiting for her sisters to play.”

Bey, who also coaches the doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan, has recorded several teaching videos shown on the Tennis Channel. His first, in 2009, was a 30-minute segment on his all-court player philosophy. He chose Brienne Minor, then 11, to demonstrate those skills. In the video, her spindly limbs punch reflex volleys and nail sharp-angled slices.

Though a two-time All-American at Michigan, Minor entered this year’s N.C.A.A. tournament unseeded, but not under the radar. Once she advanced to the quarterfinals, her sisters drove more than 10 hours overnight, from New Jersey to Georgia, to join their parents in the stands.

“We had a full squad, five strong,” Kristina Minor said.

After the final point in the championship match, Minor tossed her racket in the air. Her mother and sisters jumped to their feet as her father remained seated, taking in the moment.

Only later did the family learn about the milestone. Minor was also the first African-American N.C.A.A. champion since Arthur Ashe at U.C.L.A. in 1965.

“When we found out that he was the first male and she was the first female, we thought it was amazing, but at the same time, we never thought in 2017 there still would be a first,” Michelle Minor said. “We never talked about being black versus white, but it’s naturally always there because there weren’t a lot of African-Americans playing in tournaments.”

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Brienne Minor when she about 7. “She always seemed the most natural, the way she moves so smoothly on the court,” her father, Kevin Minor, said.

Breaking barriers was not on Minor’s mind when she tossed that racket toward the clouds. After she embraced her Michigan coaches, her thoughts soon turned to cookies and a bet she made with her coach.

“You just made history, and dessert is what you’re talking about now?” Kristina Minor said. “It’s very typical Bri.”

A small figure of Iron Man, Brienne’s favorite superhero, accompanies her to every match. Her lucky pillow came on the trip to New York as well. A picture of Minor superimposed next to Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man is on the pillowcase.

“She’s just like that, happy-go-lucky, enjoying life, la-la-la in the moment, which is a reason why she’s good,” Kristina Minor said. “Not every loss is the end of the world.”

Even if that loss comes in her debut match at the U.S. Open.

“I don’t think she’s going to look like she’s a college kid not capable of playing somebody 98th in the world,” Bey said about Wednesday’s match. “Because of her tools, she’s going to make the tennis look interesting. She’s as good a tennis player as she needs to be.”

Win or lose, Minor will return to Michigan for the start of her junior year. She plans to turn pro after she graduates. Back in Ann Arbor, there is so much to look forward to. Perhaps a Big Ten title. Another long run in the N.C.A.A. tournament. And cookies.

“There’s this place on campus called Insomnia,” she said, her voice growing animated. “The cookies are warm, just out of the oven. And they deliver to your dorm. And they’re open to 3 a.m. ”

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