Reference Entry

Garrison, Zina Lynna

Adam W. Green

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Garrison, Zina Lynna

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tennis player, was born in Houston, Texas, the youngest of six children, to Ulysses Garrison, a postal worker, and Mary Elizabeth Garrison, a nursing home aide. Though initially diagnosed with a stomach tumor, Garrison's mother discovered she was pregnant at 42 years old, ten years after her previous child. Her parents chose to begin her name with “Z” to emphasize that she would be the last of their children.Garrison grew up in the working-class African American neighborhood of Sunnyside Gardens in Houston. When she was eleven months old, her father died of a stroke; three months later, her oldest brother Willie, a catcher in the Milwaukee Braves minor league system, was struck by a baseball, developed a tumor, and died two years later.Garrison was ten years old when her older brother, Rodney, introduced her to a free tennis program at nearby MacGregor Park. Two months after the program's coach, John Wilkerson, let her hit around with an old wooden racket, Garrison entered her first tournament and reached the finals.As Garrison trained with Wilkerson and began entering regional and international tournaments, her family held fish fries and sponsored dances to raise money for her and fellow future tennis star Lori McNeil to attend the matches. Garrison attended the all-black Ross Sterling High School in Houston, where she was two grades behind the future NBA Hall-of-Famer Clyde Drexler.By 1978 Garrison was ranked among the top five junior girls in the country, and number one in Texas, the first black female to achieve that status. The following year, the fifteen-year-old Garrison became the youngest player to win the American Tennis Association junior championship. In 1981 she won the junior singles titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, became the number-one ranked junior in the world, and was feted in Washington, D.C., when the mayor dubbed 2 January 1982, “Zina Garrison Day.” In the spring of 1982, she missed her high school graduation for her first professional tournament—the French Open, where she lost to Martina Navratilova in the quarterfinals.As Garrison started touring professionally, her mother was diagnosed with acute diabetes. In the spring of 1983, Mary Garrison slipped into a coma; when Zina lost her fourth-round match in the U.S. Open, she flew back to Houston to be with her mother before she died the next morning.Though Garrison had dealt with eating issues in the past, the death of her mother drove her to bulimia more extensively. As Garrison herself admitted, “I had lost the only person who loved me unconditionally. The pressure of being labeled ‘the next Althea Gibson’ only made things worse … Bulimia was my way of coping.” Despite her troubles, Garrison continued to have professional success. In 1985 Garrison reached fifth in the WTA rankings, beating Chris Evert in the Sunkist/WTA Championship, and reaching the Wimbledon semifinals and U.S. Open and Australian Open quarterfinals.Playing in a generation between Althea Gibson and Serena and Venus Williams, Garrison had her own issues of race to deal with. During youth USTA tournaments, white parents raised complaints about her size, forcing tournament officials to ask for proof of a birth certificate date. In 1987 the clothing company Pony opted not to renew her sponsorship contract, despite her being ranked seventh in the world. In a May 1987 article on racism, Sports Illustrated wrote that “Pony officials say tight budgets, not race, caused them to cut their ties to Garrison. The company is spending its money on a Golden Girl concept featuring a white player, bodysuit-clad Anne White, who is ranked No. 46 in the world.” Fittingly, the black doubles team of Garrison and McNeil would reach the Australian Open finals that year.In 1988 Garrison enjoyed her best professional year, winning the mixed doubles championship at Wimbledon with Sherwood Stewart, taking home the gold medal for doubles and the bronze medal for singles at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, and reaching the U.S. Open semifinals after defeating Navratilova for the first time in twenty-one attempts. That fall, she met her future husband, Willard L. Jackson Jr.; the two were engaged in December, and married 23 September 1989. Garrison divorced Jackson in 1997.In 1989 Garrison reached fourth in the WTA rankings, defeated Chris Evert in the U.S. Open semifinals, and won the mixed doubles championship at the Australian Open. At Wimbledon in 1990, Garrison became the first black woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Althea Gibson in 1958. Though she lost to erstwhile foe Navratilova in the finals, Garrison won the mixed doubles title.When she retired at the end of the 1996 season, Garrison enjoyed a lifetime record of 587–281, 20 doubles titles, and 15 singles titles. Garrison joined the tennis broadcasting team for HBO, and later became an assistant coach for the Davis Cup team, captain on the U.S. Federation Cup team, and the head of the U.S. Women's team at the 2008 Beijing Games.Following her playing career, Garrison remained active with her community initiatives, including the Zina Garrison All-Court Tennis Program, which provides tennis opportunities for inner-city children in Houston.

Reference Entry.  880 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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