When it comes to inspiring role models, Venus and Serena Williams have frequently praised all they learned from their fellow American, Zina Garrison. Over the course of 15 years as a pro, Garrison attained a career-high ranking of number four in the world and won 14 WTA singles and 20 doubles titles, as well as three Grand Slam mixed doubles championships. In 1990, at Wimbledon, she became the first black woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final since Althea Gibson had accomplished that feat 32 years earlier. Along the way, Garrison beat such notables as Stefanie Graf and Monica Seles.
Several of Garrison’s finest moments came when she represented her country in competition. From 1984 to 1994, Garrison played 27 Fed Cup (now known as the Billie Jean King Cup) matches, going 7-4 in singles, 15-1 in doubles and being a vital part of three championship teams (’86, ’89-‘90)
Another notable Garrison effort on behalf of the red, white and blue took place in Seoul, Korea in the fall of 1988. Tennis that year had become a full-fledged Olympic sport for the first time in 64 years. In singles, Garrison reached the semis without the loss of a set and earned a bronze medal, only losing to the mighty Graf.
In doubles, paired up with Pam Shriver, Garrison went further. The two played magnificent tennis to reach the finals. There they took on the formidable Czech team of Helena Sukova and Jana Novotna, a pair of future Hall of Famers who collectively would earn 31 Grand Slam titles. After losing the first set 6-4, Garrison and Shriver easily took the second 6-2. But the third was tight as it gets, both teams on serve until 8-8 when the Americans broke Novotna. At 9-8, Garrison served for the gold. Five times, championship points came and went – including two Garrison double-faults. Finally, on the sixth, Garrison-Shriver closed it out. Said Garrison, “It was really strange to be on the victory stand and hear your national anthem. It’s just got to be the special moment in your life.”
All these experiences naturally made Garrison a great fit to lead her compatriots in high stakes, international team play. From 1999 to 2003, she worked alongside US Fed Cup captain Billie Jean King, the American team taking the title in ’99.
And then, on this day in 2003, Garrison was named captain. “I did a sampling of players -- that would be one factor entering into it. And it’s my firm conviction that Zina is ready to take the next step,” said USTA President Alan Schwartz. “There comes a time when transition makes sense. Billie Jean herself said this was the time.”
“I’m thrilled to be selected captain of the US Fed Cup team and am ready for the pursuit of a championship, having learned so much from my mentor Billie Jean King,” said Garrison. “Leading the effort in representing our country in Fed Cup is a great responsibility and an opportunity for which I am very grateful. I am looking forward to the challenge.”
Garrison would lead the team for the next five years, the American squad reaching the semis of the competition four times.