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Monday, February 14, 2005

Jenkins Makes Debut.....Again

Scoville Jenkins had to breathe a sigh of relief last week, when the draw at the ATP tour stop in Memphis came out and his name wasn't paired with Andy Roddick’s. The only other time Jenkins received a wild card into a tour event was last August, when, after winning Kalamazoo, he drew the defending U.S. Open champion in the first round. Although an overwhelmed Jenkins took a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 prime-time televised pasting from the second seed (a result assuaged by Roddick's subsequent blitzing of Nadal, Canas and Robredo), the first African-American to win the Boys National Junior Championship was officially in the spotlight. Drawing Roddick momentarily looked like bad luck, but it raised Jenkins’ profile and gave him an opportunity to see firsthand two sides of the professional tennis media coin--attention will be paid, at least until you lose.

Though still eligible to play Kalamazoo this year due to a September birthday, Jenkins is not expected to return. He has not played junior tennis since the U.S. Open, where he lost in the quarters, and his results in the Futures and Challengers over the past four months have alternated between good and bad, not unusual for newly minted pros. But he’s experienced no Monfils-like breakthrough.

And though his 6-4, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) loss today in Memphis to Kevin Kim, who won Kalamazoo in 1996, isn’t going to be that Top 100 belt-notch, it is encouraging. Kim has been playing very well of late, making the third round in Australia and the quarters in Delray and is currently at a career-high 67th on the entry ranking list.

I confess to being an unabashed fan of Scoville Jenkins, and have been since watching him play his first matches in Kalamazoo, when he was 14 years old. This link is the story I wrote when he won Kalamazoo. The list of players who have won Kalamazoo is impressive, but not nearly as glittery as the list of those who haven’t. (McEnroe, Agassi, Courier, Sampras and Roddick did not). It provides no assurance that Jenkins will ascend to their level.

And the exposure he received for his “first” and for playing Andy Roddick hasn’t translated to fortune and only brief fame. (Case in point—I’m writing this entire post without a link because I couldn’t find one. Compare that to Young-Ginepri). So now it’s back to the grind of becoming a self-supporting professional tennis player. If character, work ethic and confidence are part of surviving that stage and moving to the next, Scoville Jenkins needn’t worry. He’ll get there.