By William C. Singleton III
For The Birmingham Times
Jamiya Ivory, 14, first began tennis after watching her younger brother, Nigel, play in a match seven years ago, and said, “I can do this.” She hasn’t looked back since.
The home-schooled youth who lives on the southwest side of Birmingham with her family is the first club member to rank among the top eight tennis players in the 14U division, said, Rudy Lewis, who coaches Jamiya and about 60 other players of the James Lewis Tennis Scholarship Foundation Inc. at George Ward Park on Southside Birmingham. Jamiya currently ranks fourth in the state in the 14U division.
Jamiya received her state ranking in the 14U (14 and under) division at the Alabama Qualifier tournament held in May in Montgomery. The top 32 players in each age bracket qualified for the event. The categories included boys and girls singles in 12U, 14U, 16U and 18U, Lewis said. “We have a young lady for the first time in our history who made the top eight in the state,” Lewis said. “She went to play in the Southern tournament and won three out of her five tournament matches. That’s huge,” he added.
By placing among the top eight, Jamiya qualified for national competition, which was held in June in Macon, Ga. There, she won three out of five matches to qualify for international competition. But she said the national tournament is about as far as she wants to go right now. “I did well, but there are still some things I have to work on, so I kind of shut it down.”
Jamiya has been playing tennis since she was seven years old. Even though her father, Nathan Echols, is a tennis coach, Jamiya said it was her younger brother who piqued her interest in tennis. “When I saw my younger brother play in a match, I decided to get involved in tennis,” she said. “It looked easy. I had tried other sports, but I couldn’t get use to them.”
Jamiya said she’s gotten better with her serve and has improved her composure on the court. Playing against friends and people she’s met at other competitions helps make her a calmer player, she said.
“When you play a lot of tournaments, people start to know you and recognize your name, especially when you play them a lot,” she said. “You develop chemistry from playing each other in tournaments.”
Jamiya has played in nearly 40 tournaments, winning many of those and placing in others, her father said. She and her brother compete against each other to see who gets the most trophies and medals.
Echols said his daughter is still learning the game of tennis and is gradually improving her skills. But she’s at an age where she’s still deciding how far she wants to take tennis and how serious she wants to be about the sport.
“She thinks she’s serious about it,” he said. “But she’s a 14-year-old girl still having fun.” He said he does see a competitive fire within her. “Even though she’s having fun with the challenge, win or lose, when she loses, she gets upset,” Echols said. “She can be a contender if she wants to be, if she puts in the work. It’s not going to take that much with her because she takes to it like a duck to water.”
But to go to that next level will require a special dedication and desire that has to come from her, not him, he added. Currently, she prefers playing junior team tournaments because she gets to play with her teammates, Echols said. USTA (United States Tennis Association) tournaments are single matches, he said.
While he encourages her to continue to improve her game, he’s not trying to force her into being the next Serena Williams, Echols said.
“To push, push, push, that’s not going to work,” he said. “She has to want it for herself.”
Jamiya will motivate herself to practice, at least five times a week, her father said. He noticed that she was losing stamina during matches and suggested she run before she practices tennis. When she goes to the courts at George Ward, she now runs at least 10 to 20 laps before she takes to the court.
“She started to wither in matches because her legs were not strong enough and her lower body was not strong enough,” he said. “She’s been sailing ever since.”
Echols also said his daughter will have to move up to either 16U or 18U because she ages out of the 14U division by the end of August. It may be a challenge for her, but if she continues practicing and working on her skills, she should be okay, he added.
Jamiya said she considers Serena Williams a role model and has learned to set lofty goals. “I look up to Serena a lot because all her accomplishments make you want to accomplish what she’s accomplished and do better than what she’s done,” she said.
As for now, Jamiya is concentrating more on getting better and deciding where tennis will take her. She said she hopes to land her first college tennis scholarship. She hopes at least one of three schools comes knocking. “I’ve narrowed it down to three choices: Vanderbilt, Duke and UCLA. All have good tennis programs,” she said. “I’ll have to play a little bit more, then the scholarships will start coming in.”
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