Many fans of tennis are familiar with the names of Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, and Chris Evert.
Even more know of the famous Williams Sisters–Venus and Serena–who have rocked the sport of tennis with their brilliant, flamboyant and beautiful contributions to tennis.
But, how many of you know of Zina Garrison? During the 1980s she was a force to be reckoned with on the court, and off the court, she was the epitome of reserve and decorum. Here is her story.
Zina Garrison (b. November 16, 1963), tennis player. It was an historic moment. In 1990 Wimbledon women’s singles final, Martina Navratilova won her ninth singles title, a record held by no other person, when she defeated Zina Garrison, the first Black woman to play on Wimbledon’s center court since 1958, when Althea Gibson won her second of two Wimbledon crowns. Being first has been a common occurrence for the professional tennis player Zina Garrison.
Zina Garrison, the youngest of seven children, was born in Houston, Texas, to Mary and Ulysses Garrison. Her father died before she was a year old, so Ms. Garrison was raised by her mother, who worked as an aide in a nursing home. When Zina was ten, she began playing tennis at the local public courts, where she received instruction from the resident coach, John Wilkerson. Impressed with her talent, he entered her in local tournaments, where she did well. At the age of 12, Zina entered her first tournament. By the time she was sixteen, she was playing in national tournaments and with Lori McNeal, another Black player from the Houston public courts, won the 1979 National Hard Court Doubles Championship for ages sixteen and under.
The next year, 1980, Ms. Garrison won the National Girls Sixteen Singles Championship and, with Ms. McNeal, three national junior doubles titles. In 1981, at seventeen, she was the first Black player to win the junior singles championship at Wimbledon, and she also won the junior singles title at the U.S. Open. For these wins, the U.S. Olympic Committee named her top female amateur athlete in tennis. She also received the Junior of the Year Award from the International Tennis Federation, and she was awarded the Girl’s Sportsmanship Trophy by the U.S. Tennis Association. In 1982, Ms. Garrison turned professional and was ranked sixteenth in the world.
In her fifteen years as a professional tennis player, Ms. Garrison had an outstanding career. In the 1987 she won the Australian Open mixed doubles with Sherwood Stewart, and in 1988 the pair won the mixed doubles crown at Wimbledon. (In 1990, she won the mixed doubles with Rich Leach.) Also, in 1988, Ms. Garrison was a member of the first U.S. Olympic tennis team since 1924 to compete in the Olympic games. At he games, held in Seoul, Korea, she won the gold medal with Pam Shriver in doubles and a bronze medal in singles. Captain of the Wrightman Cup team in 1988, she was also on the Federation Cup team from 1985 to 1994. The Federation Cup is the women’s equivalent of the Davis Cup.
Another historic moment for Ms. Garrison occurred at the U.S. open in 1989 when she defeated Chris Evert 7-6, 6-2, during the last tournament of Ms. Evert’s career. Ms. Garrison also had big wins over Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf, both champion players.
Ranked among the top ten women tennis players from 1984 to 1995, she was number two in 1989 and never lower than number six.
In 1989 she married Willard Jackson, a Houston businessman (president of a hazardous waste disposal company) whom she divorced in 1997.
In 1998 at the U.S. Open, she was awarded the Service Bowl for outstanding contributions. She remained involved in tennis by serving as director at large on the United States Tennis Association (USTA) Board of Directors. She was liason to the Professional Player Division and a member of the board’s Tennis High Performance Committee. She was assistant coach of the Federation Cup team and, in Texas, head coach for the Maureen Connolly Brinker Cup National Junior Team.
Zina Garrison also worked as a television commentator and lecturer. In 1988, she founded the Zina Garrison Foundation for the Homeless. A longtime activist for inner-city youth, she achieved a lifelong dream in 1991 with the opening of the Zina Garrison All-Court Tennis Academy, which supports inner-city youths in Houston, Texas and was one of the leading youth programs of its kind. Ms. Garrison was also a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Ms. Garrison was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.
In 1997, Ms. Zina Garrison retired from professional tennis.
She still continues to make her mark on tennis. She also led the U.S. women’s team at the 2008 Beijing Games tennis event where team members Venus and Serena Williams won a doubles gold medal, as well as entering in the lives of so many children who aspire to enter the world of tennis. Per her website of the Zina Garrison Academy: ” The Zina Garrison All Court Tennis Academy is dedicated to teaching life skills, promoting community service, providing positive role models, strengthening the educational opportunities and developing the tennis skills of Houston’s diverse youth population”.
Black Women in America, by Darlene Clark Hine, et. al., Oxford Press, 2005.
“Garrison’s Biggest Rally Came Off the Court,” Alex Fineman, Sports-Century Biography. ESPN.com http://espn.com/classic/biography/s/Garrison_Zina.html .
“Living a Dream,” Sports Illustrated, November 27, 1989.
The Official United States Tennis Association Yearbook and Tennis Guide with the Official Rules 1991. MA Lynn: HO Zimman, 1990.
“Zina’s Zenith.” Josh Young. Women’s Sports and Fitness, May-June 1990