Young, black stars sparkle on tennis court

Jenkins, Simmonds meet in Shriver's charity event

Tennis

December 15, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Pam Shriver has a pretty good record when it comes to judging future talent.

Over the years, she has presented Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles, Serena and Venus Williams and, just last year, Maria Sharapova - who is now ranked No. 4 in the world - as future stars of the game.

"But we've never had future men," Shriver said. "That's a little bit harder to judge."

Friday at the Mercantile Tennis Challenge, Shriver's annual exhibition that raises money for children's charities, Shriver will try her hand at introducing future stars of the men's game. She will present Scoville Jenkins and Phillip Simmonds, two junior-circuit standouts who turned pro last summer, in the Future Legends of Tennis match, which precedes the main event, featuring No. 1 Lindsay Davenport and Sharapova.

Adding to the unusual nature of the futures event is that Jenkins and Simmonds are both African-American - in a sport long challenged to produce even one prominent male black player in a generation, let alone two bright new prospects at once.

"I think mainly our presence shows African-Americans can compete," said Simmonds, 18, from Reston, Va. "And I enjoy being different, being my own personality. But I feel like there is a new wave of players coming. Me, Scoville and a couple others. It's not like there is none. There are a lot of African-Americans who can play."

Both Simmonds, who made it to No. 2 in the world junior rankings, and Jenkins, an Atlanta native who played Andy Roddick in the first round of the U.S. Open this year, are looking forward to moving up in the pro ranks.

They've met in a match twice, with Simmonds using his all-court game and coming to the net a lot to win their first match and Jenkins rallying from the baseline and using his big serve to win their second meeting.

"Tennis was made for the people in the suburbs," said Jenkins, 18. "I lived in the city. I was supposed to play basketball. It's weird. I did like basketball, but when I was 14, I was really good at tennis. I was winning and going to national events and realized I could be pretty good."

Simmonds learned the game from his father, an air traffic controller. He also heard about Ivan Lendl's work ethic and Pete Sampras' big game.

"And I heard about Arthur Ashe," Simmonds said. "He's probably the reason why African-Americans can play tennis at all. He was all about class. ... Before, I was just one of those kids who said, `Yeah, Arthur Ashe was great.' But to have respect, you have to know who you are following and what you're trying to do."

Simmonds graduated from high school this year and said college is on his to-do list. He also said his plan for tennis is to work hard and enjoy it.

"You hear people say that all the time," he said. "They say, `Work hard and enjoy it because you never know when it will end.' I don't want to give it the bum's rush and not appreciate what I'm doing."

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