Three years ago, Robin Montgomery, then 12, entertained dreams of becoming a big-time tennis pro, able to test her skills routinely at the game’s major events. On Monday, the 15-year-old rising star’s dream becomes a reality when she faces No. 23 seed Yulia Putinseva, Kazakstan, in the U.S. Open first round in New York.
“I really like competing against international people,” said Montgomery, a Washington, D.C. resident. “I just want to become top 20 in the world.”
Ranked No. 597, Montgomery needed a wildcard to compete in her first major event. Her good friend, Coco Gauff, 16, received a wildcard at last year’s U.S. Open and reached the third round before losing to Naomi Osaka, 2018 U.S. Open champion. Montgomery and Gauff joined six other African American women at the Flushing Meadows tournament. The others are former U.S. Open champions Serena Williams (1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 20013, 20014), Venus Williams (2000-2001), Sloane Stephens (2017), Madison Keys, Taylor Townsend and wildcard Sachia Vickery.
On her friendship with Gauff, Montgomery told the itftennis.com, “We’ve known each other since we were 10 years old. Lately, we just talked about how it sucks that the tournaments have been cancelled because we were both excited to compete this year … Coco has inspired so many young American players … having her as a role model for younger players just shows them that dreams can come true.”
Montgomery, who plays left-handed, was five years old when she took her first tennis lessons at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast D.C. The urban community program is sponsored by the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC). Her enthusiasm and potential earned her a scholarship to train at the JTCC’s program in College Park, Maryland. Ali Agnamba, JTCC’s senior coach became her mentor.
In the juniors, Montgomery maintained high national rankings in the Girls 12, 14s, 16s and became one of the youngest players to win the prestigious Orange Bowl Girls 18 championships last December. That victory proved to be her go-for-it button to turn pro. Last March, just before the Coronavirus shut down the tennis season Montgomery claimed her first title in her fourth pro event, defeating No. 174 Xiaodi You 2-6, 6-3,6-4 in the final of the ITF $25,000 event in Las Vegas.
Ray Benton, JTCC’s chief executive officer, said that Montgomery, like nearly every top woman pro, is a solid baseline banger. “But she’s really developing an all-court game,” he added. “Tennis coach Vic Braden used to say, ‘If you play the same game that your opponent plays, and they continue to beat you why would you continue to play that way.”’
JTCC alumni Frances Tiafoe, Denis Kudla, Usue Arconada and Hailey Baptise also are competing at the U.S. Open this week.
“I am really close with Frances and I’ve talked with Denis a few times,” Montgomery said. “They both have said that this journey is a long journey, but the most important thing is to make sure you enjoy yourself. Tennis is all about having fun and doing what you love.”
IMG, a major sports and talent management firm, recently signed Montgomery to a management contract. The Williams sisters, top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Osaka are other top pros IMG represents.
“I do believe I can make it. It’s just a matter of time,” Montgomery said.