Jamea sets off on the Williams road

Out on Court 10 at the US Open a little bit of history was being made. An AfricanAmerican girl, celebrating her 14th birthday, was heading for a third-round victory over an older, seeded player. Then her legs began to cramp and in the third set Jamea Jackson's big adventure was over as she was forced to default in thejunior event.

Out on Court 10 at the US Open a little bit of history was being made. An AfricanAmerican girl, celebrating her 14th birthday, was heading for a third-round victory over an older, seeded player. Then her legs began to cramp and in the third set Jamea Jackson's big adventure was over as she was forced to default in thejunior event.

Jamea, pronounced "Juh-mee-uh", is the daughter of a former NFL footballer, Ernest Jackson. She comes from Atlanta but for the past two years has been based at the Nick Bollettieri tennis academy in Bradenton, Florida. This is the breeding ground for such as Monica Seles and Anna Kournikova and Bollettieri is convinced he has another winner. "She is going to be great," he said. "She just needs to grow a bit more [she is 5ft 5in at the moment], develop an all-round game, stay in school and enjoy being a little girl before she joins the pro tour."

So convinced is Jackson, a former cornerback with New Orleans and Atlanta in the 1970s, there is another winner on the way that he has moved the entire family to Bradenton so they can be close to Jamea. It seems the move was a sensible one, since Jamea won the US National 16 and Under singles and doubles titles a month ago. Last year, aged 12, she walked off with the US 14 and Under crown.

Bradenton is also where Venus and Serena Williams do much of their training. It was a desire to do something else to complement her skills at ballet which tempted Jamea into tennis, rather than a desire to emulate the Williamses, but watching them train with Bollettieri has boosted her own ambitions. "I was able to find out how focused they are and how hard they work," she said. "It really inspires you because I want to be like them."

Jamea jokes that she was able to beat her father by the time she was nine, the first year she took up the game. "He's horrible at tennis," she grinned. But what she has taken from Ernest is his approach to life.

"When you have kids you try to prepare them for life," Jackson said. "You try to get them to where they can achieve. I had my day in the sun. That's why, when we got the offer to go to Bollettieri's, I felt it was important the whole family be there. It allows me and my wife to be involved not only in her tennis but her education."

Though she started playing the game with no intention of chasing cups and titles, within a year she got to the final of her first tournament, in Valdosta, Georgia. "I lost 6-0 6-0," she recalled. "I bawled." But it was not long before she began to accumulate titles and to travel, collecting championships in Chile and Uruguay and becoming National 14 and Under champion at the age of 12. She has also represented the US in world youth competitions at the 16-year level and it was victory in the National 16 Championships which earned her a place at the US Open.

Drawn against the third seed, Ioana Gaspar of Romania, in the first round, Jamea scored an impressive 6-3 6-4 win. Already supplied with clothing and racket sponsors, she also looked like getting through to the quarter-finals against the 13th-seeded Matea Mezak of Croatia until cramp cut short her display of twofisted backhand skills. Was she disappointed? "Yes, it was a shame it ended this way, but I'll go home now and eat a lot of Chinese food. No big deal."

In her two years at the Bollettieri academy, Jamea has trained with Martina Hingis and chatted with the Williamses. "When I started playing I was thinking about making tennis my career," she said. "But now I would turn pro immediately if I could."

Bollettieri intends to lead her carefully towards that landmark. The strength of her game is on the backhand but the Bollettieri team are working hard to make her aggressive at the net as well as from the baseline.

"In the past I would have gone after a big contract right away," Bollettieri said. "But there will be time to sell this girl. The money will come in abundance. If we don't rush, I think we'll have a player in three years."

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