Jamea Jackson is one a new generation of African-American tennis players in a sport once known as one of the most segregated of all professional and amateur contests. In mid-2006, Jackson was the shortest player among the world's top 60 tennis athletes at just five feet, four inches. The 20-year-old's years in training developed other talents that made up for that shortcoming. "I have a good slice serve," she told Palm Beach Post writer Charles Elmore, which she noted was an advantage on grass courts like the famous ones at the All-England Club at Wimbledon. "I'm shorter than a lot of players, but I'm quicker. I can use that to be aggressive in a different kind of way."
Jackson was born in 1986 into a family that already included her older brother, Jarryd. Their father, Ernest, was an Atlanta-area entrepreneur who had spent most of the 1970s as a cornerback for National Football League franchises, among them that city's Falcons, along with stints as a New Orleans Saint and Detroit Lion. Jackson's mother, Ruby, was a flight attendant with Delta Airlines. As a young girl, Jackson loved her ballet classes, but wanted to try a drastically different activity that would boost her athleticism in dance class. She decided to sign up for classes at the Burdette Tennis Center, a public parks and recreation facility located in the College Park area near her home.
Jackson began playing tennis in 1994, the year she turned eight, and her soon-obvious natural abilities stunned her first coaches and her parents. After beating her father in a game for the first time, she began entering junior tournaments and moved over to the Peachtree City Tennis Center, which offered a higher caliber of coaching. Her first tournament win came in Memphis in 1997, and the prize included a week at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. This was a well-known tennis school that had trained the sport's most recent new stars, the teen sisters Venus and Serena Williams, as well as scores other top-seeded players from around the world.
Jackson impressed the Bollettieri staffers so well that she was offered a scholarship to enroll permanently. Students from wealthy families often board there on their own, or in other cases one parent may move to the Bradenton area with the family's tennis prodigy and live in rental housing. Jackson was all set to attend the Academy, and her parents were fully committed to relocating the family to the Bradenton area, but then "I couldn't find a good public school for Jarryd to attend, and we couldn't find a good apartment in time," her mother Ruby confessed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Seth Coleman, adding that Jamea "was pretty upset about it at first." A year later, her parents went ahead with the move, and Jackson was thrilled to finally meet the Williams sisters, who were still active in the Bollettieri program. "I was able to find out how focused they are and how hard they work," a 14-yearold Jackson told a writer for the British newspaper, the Independent on Sunday. "It really inspires you because I want to be like them."
In the summer of 1999, Jackson won her first U.S. National 14 and Under title, and by the end of that year she was ranked No. 4 in country in her age group by that tournament's governing body, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA). A year later, in August of 2000, she took the U.S. National 16 and Under singles and doubles titles. She then made her first appearance in one of her sport's best-known contests, the quartet of tournaments collective called the Grand Slam events. These are Wimbledon in England and the U.S., Australian, and French Opens. Jackson made it into junior-division play at the U.S. Open that year and beat the number-three junior women's player, Romania's Ioana Gaspar, but was felled by leg cramps in her next round of play and forced to default.
Failing to win any titles in 2001, Jackson nevertheless returned with a terrific performance in 2002 at the USTA International Winter Championships in the junior division, which also gave her first international win. She turned professional in 2003 and joined the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), the governing body for players who compete for often lucrative cash prizes on the international circuit (its men-only counterpart is the Association of Tennis Professionals, or ATP). She won her first $50,000 prize at a WTA event in Tucson, Arizona, and quickly moved up the international rankings. In July of 2005, an 18-year-old Jackson debuted in the WTA women's world rankings as No. 86 just after her first appearance at the famed All England Club in Wimbledon, England.
In January of 2006, Jackson competed in the Australian Open, winning an impressive victory over Tamarine Tanasugarn but losing to the No. 12-ranked female player in the world, Anastasia Myskina, who went on to win the women's singles title. Two months later, Jackson made tennis history in a match at the Nasdaq-100 Open—the former name for the Sony Ericsson Open, sometimes referred to as the Miami Masters tournament. While playing American Ashley Harkleroad, Jackson used one of two challenges allowed to her in new WTA rules that went into effect that week with the introduction of a new camera-based instant-replay procedure. Jackson used it to challenge one of the judges' line calls on whether a ball was in or out, and though the electronic line-calling system affirmed the judge's decision, it marked the first time in the history of a WTA event that the system was used by a player.
In April of 2006, Jackson played on the U.S. team at the Fed Cup, which is the top women's tournament at the international level, and helped the team come from behind and win a surprise 3-2 victory over Germany. Two months later she made it into the finals at Wimbledon for the first time, beating Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. In December of 2006, however, she underwent surgery for a bone spur in her hip joint and worried that she might not recover fully, as had happened with some other top players in their career whose hip joints had become problematic. She admitted she was "terrified" when doctors told her they would have to operate, she told Charles Bricker of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "You don't hear of people having hip surgery at age 20." Her parents remained with her during the arduous five months of physical therapy and rehabilitation. Her father's own experiences recovering from injuries was an invaluable boost, as was her mother, who "is even a more up person than me," Jackson said in the same interview.
At a Glance …
Born on September 7, 1986, in Atlanta, GA; daughter of Ernest (a business owner) and Ruby (a flight attendant) Jackson.
Career: Professional tennis player, 2003-.
Addresses: Office—c/o United States Tennis Association, 70 West Red Oak Lane, White Plains, NY 10604.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 11, 1998, p. JM10.
Independent on Sunday (London, England), September 10, 2000, p. 14.
Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, FL), June 28, 2006, p. 7C.
Sarasota Magazine, December 1999, p. 162.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL), May 29, 2007.
Sports Illustrated, September 6, 2004, p. Z4.
"Circuit Player of the Week: Jamea Jackson," USTA,http://www.usta.com/news/fullstory.sps?inewsid=325243 (October 2, 2007).
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