In this era of tennis, stars like Venus and Serena Williams did not just take over the sport, they completely dominated the game. Today, you see the emergence of African American players like Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. Their success and influence on the game was definitely aided by the career of Zina Garrison, an African American tennis player whose career blossomed in the 1980s. Garrison, who was protégé of the groundbreaking Althea Gibson, received immense pressure from being taught by the legendary tennis player.
“The pressure of being labeled ‘the next Althea Gibson’ only made things worse. I felt I was never going to be allowed to grow into just becoming me.” – Observer Sport Monthly
Despite the pressure, Garrison still achieved a great amount of success during her short career, placing as the runner-up in Wimbledon in 1990, the first African American woman to reach the final since Gibson, and became a three-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion.
Garrison also performed on the biggest stage in the world during the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, winning the women’s doubles gold medal and won the bronze medal in women’s singles.
However, life wasn’t always as easy and successful for Garrison. After the death of her mother when she was just 19 years old, she began to suffer from bulimia, and eating disorder that causes one to binge eat and then purge the body of the food.
“I had never been comfortable with my looks and felt I had lost the only person who loved me unconditionally.” – Observer Sport Monthly
After being in retirement for close to the three decades, Garrison now resides in Houston, where she is helping to rebuild the city and its communities after the devastation it endured due to Hurricane Harvey.
“I’m trying not to cry thinking about it,” Garrison told ESPN following the storm. “For some reason, [something] told me to grab my medals, my [1988 Olympic women’s doubles] gold medal [and 1988 bronze singles medal].” – ESPN
Gibson is now teaching up-and-coming tennis star Taylor Townsend, just as Gibson brought Garrison under her wing in the 1970s. Soon, tennis will have its new African American woman in the game, and there is no underestimating the impact that trailblazers like Gibson and Garrison had on tennis and its current stars.