In observance of Women’s History Month, The Daily launches a series aimed at telling the stories of female athletes, coaches and teams at the University from the perspective of the female sports writers on staff. Daily sports writer Maya Salinas continues the series with this story.
Brienne ‘Bri’ Minor isn’t your typical tennis star. She’s not the highest-ranked player on the Michigan Wolverines’ Women’s tennis team. She wasn’t even seeded as a singles player going into last season’s NCAA Championships.
But on May 29, 2017, everything changed. That Monday, Minor shocked herself and the rest of the tennis world by winning the singles championship.
“Going in unseeded, no one expected anything from me,” Minor said. “I actually loved being unseeded. I loved being the underdog.”
And it was an underdog story for the ages. Minor’s run made her the first Wolverine in the program’s history to win a championship.
“That week I just kinda got on a roll,” Minor said. “The team event was over; I was just kinda playing for myself. … Day by day, each match.”
Minor’s championship-winning match — after five grueling wins prior — was against Florida’s Belinda Woolcock, who she defeated 6-3, 6-3. Three of the six matches were against top-16 seed opponents. When Minor won, she threw her racket in the air, the defiant celebration of someone who beat multiple of the country’s best players.
“It was a surprise to me,” Minor said, speaking of her title win.
For winning the championship, she earned a wildcard spot at the U.S. Open.
Minor saw all the greats in one place, and for a moment, played in the same tournament as some of her tennis idols. She called it the best experience of her life.
Looking back on what shaped Minor into the national champion she is today, she thought largely about her family and their influence on her hardworking, yet humble demeanor.
Growing up, Minor watched both of her sisters, Jasmine and Kristina, play tennis from childhood to college, and in turn, helped her do the same. To this day, Jasmine and Kristina are some of her biggest supporters.
As Minor was playing in the round of 16 during the tournament, her sisters were watching from home. Kristina was in New Jersey and Jasmine was in Washington D.C. at the time, but once they saw her win that match, they decided they had to support her in person. Kristina got in the car after work to pick up Jasmine, and together they drove through the night to surprise Minor in Georgia.
Jasmine said that supporting her sisters was a principle that she was raised with, no matter their endeavors.
“We always want the best for Bri,” Jasmine said.
And her parents are huge supporters too.
“They support us like no other,” added Brienne of her parents.
In a match against Purdue on March 25, Minor won 7-6, 6-1, just a month and a half after returning from a knee injury. As her parents watched her play, Minor’s mother, Michelle, was mostly quiet, but anxiously playing with her hands, as if her daughter’s nerves were transferred into her body. Her father, Kevin, watched more calmly, taking note of every move his daughter made. Both parents occasionally spouted something along the lines of ‘Go Blue.’ But for the most part, they sat quietly, supporting their daughter in a nervous silence.
And that’s just against Purdue. One can only imagine what they were like during that Monday in May.
More broadly, Minor made history as the first African American woman to ever win the singles title. The last African American to win a singles title in Division I tennis was Arthur Ashe over 50 years ago.
Minor plays in a sport dominated by white athletes, despite tennis having a worldwide presence. Tennis has always been mostly white, and the Minors felt that firsthand.
“We were the only family of color for a very long time,” Jasmine said. “We knew how to deal with certain things.”
Minor’s biggest inspirations outside of her family and her teammates are powerhouse tennis players Serena and Venus Williams. The Williams sisters have done a lot to change the face of tennis and foster a sense of inclusivity through the representation of African American females as elite tennis players. Their inspiration clearly rubbed off on Minor who, after finishing her degree, wants to play tennis and volunteer in clubs where kids don’t always have the same opportunities and resources she had growing up.
Jasmine told the story of how other young African Americans reacted when they interacted with Minor on the tennis court.
“Even if you go to a Michigan women’s match you’ll see all these little Black kids that come,” Jasmine said. “They crowd around Bri. They go straight to her above anybody else, and it’s not because of how good she is. It’s because they finally see someone who looks like them. … And that’s a big deal.
“I don’t think people realize what it’s like to go your whole life and not see someone who looks like you.”
Added Kristina: “It’s hard to imagine what you’re capable of if you’ve never seen anybody do it before.”
By becoming a national champion, Minor gained not just the title, but the platform to increase the representation of African American women in tennis even further and to a young audience.
“Just being able to represent that group is just really something special to me and I hope I can pave the way for younger African American female tennis players,” Minor said, “and really younger tennis players in general, just like Serena and Venus did for me.”
These goals should be important to tennis as a whole.
In college tennis during the 2015-16 season, less than 400 of the almost 9,000 female tennis players were Black, excluding Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The numbers for male tennis players are even lower; only 218 of 7,842 male tennis players in the 2015-16 season were Black.
But minority representation in tennis is slowly improving. Minor hopes to positively contribute to this change.
“This is uncharted territory for her, I think for all of us,” Kristina said. “There’s definitely something bigger surrounding what Bri has done.”
Watching the Williams sisters taught Minor that she could play tennis regardless of her background if she was willing to work hard. Now, she has the chance to transfer that message to the next generation.