Taking Charge: Nice article on Fed Cup captain, Zina Garrison
Garrison finds satisfying niche as team leader
By Sharon Ginn
The Boston Globe
April 16, 2004
The lesson was taught early to the Garrison children, and eventually it became as natural to them as breathing. It is your duty to work for the common good, they were told, and to do it with a loving spirit.
Zina Garrison never knew her father, a postal carrier who died when she was 1, but she heard all about how the customers on his route urged the local paper to write about how kind he had been, how giving and helpful. Her mother routinely invited down-on-their-luck friends or strangers to stay in their Houston home, which already was teeming with seven children, and once gave away young Zina's new coat to a man wandering the streets in the cold.
Years later tennis brought Zina fame and glory and fortune beyond all expectations, and she could never shake the feeling that she couldn't possibly do enough to give back. She still hasn't.
Which is why when she retired from the WTA Tour in 1997 after 15 years as a pro, eight of them ranked in the world's top 10, Garrison began working to help the sport that did so much for her. She served on the US Tennis Association's board of directors and spent five years as US Fed Cup assistant coach under captain Billie Jean King. She has acted as mentor to Serena Williams and has helped develop tennis programs for inner-city youths in her native Houston.
"As she's grown older, she's realized that she had it easy -- easier than the average individual," said her sister Clara Garrison. "She wants to always do whatever she can."
Zina has quietly evolved into a low-key yet undeniable force in women's tennis. In December, USTA president Alan Schwartz cemented that status by naming her the US Fed Cup team captain, making her the first African-American captain in the event's 40-year history. Two months later, Schwartz offered her the job as women's Olympic coach for the Athens Games.
For those who know Garrison well, the jobs are logical assignments.
"Players respect someone who's been a top player, been to the [Fed Cup] finals, knows what it's like to go out there and win the big match," said Pam Shriver, a longtime friend who won the doubles gold medal with Garrison at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. "She's competed in every possible competition for the United States.
"[And] people enjoy supporting and being with Zina in a common goal. She's very likable that way. There's not a mean bone or a deceitful anything. I think tennis players really relate to and appreciate that."
As Fed Cup assistant, Garrison did her best to bridge the gap between the often demanding, always passionate King and a revolving door of players who, in some cases, were reluctant to fit playing for their country into their schedules. After the United States lost to France in the 2003 Fed Cup final, both King and Schwartz agreed a change was in order.
King had gotten into much-publicized dust-ups with players, most famously kicking Jennifer Capriati off the team in 2002 after Capriati broke a team rule by insisting on bringing along and working with her father and coach, Stefano. The distraction led to the US team's surprising first-round exit with a loss to Austria.
Last year, King refused to allow Lindsay Davenport to play in the quarterfinals against Italy because she would have had to arrive late because of her mother's knee surgery.
Garrison said a more lenient practice schedule will be in place during Fed Cup ties under her watch, starting with next weekend's first round against Slovenia. Players will be able to work with their coaches after the team's regular practice if they wish.
"That's where my personality comes in," Garrison said. "They know I'm really laid-back. Get your work done, get your rest in, have some fun. I like people to understand that they're professionals, and that I know they're going to do what it takes to get out there and perform well."
Still, while Zina the diplomat goes out of her way to relate to the younger generation, Zina the patriot gets a bit exasperated at players who don't feel it is important to make competing for their country a priority, or who complain that the packed WTA Tour schedule makes it too difficult.
Though she won 37 titles on tour (14 singles, 20 doubles, 3 mixed doubles) and had many memorable moments as a professional -- among them a run to the 1990 Wimbledon final -- Garrison considers winning the gold medal with Shriver her finest moment. She also won the bronze medal in singles that year. Between 1984 and 1994, she played on eight Fed Cup teams, helping the US win three titles.
Playing for your country should be an honor, Garrison said. "It's a little tough sometimes. I have to keep going back and remembering that the way it is set up for [players] now, they really don't have to give anything back. That's one thing I've always loved about Billie. She always teaches that there's someone before you, there'll be someone after you, and you have to take responsibility and be something. I grew up like that."
But most of the time, Garrison treads carefully, and if her first Fed Cup ensemble is any indication, her approach is likely to work.
For the tie in Slovenia next week, she will bring Venus Williams, Laura Granville, Martina Navratilova, and Fed Cup mainstay Lisa Raymond. Serena Williams was originally scheduled to play but withdrew because of continuing knee problems.
Garrison said all the players she contacted about Fed Cup have shown interest, and word is, even Capriati might play. Recruiting, schmoozing, and soothing will be an important part of her job over the coming months, as Garrison searches for the proper formula to put the US women on the medal stand in Athens and on top of the world in the Fed Cup.
"The best way I can probably describe it is, it's like being manager of a baseball team," Garrison said. "I'm putting together all the parts of getting the very best team, and managing the whole day-to-day situation. All to try to bring back a championship."