As Serena Williams pushes toward her quest for a record-tying 24 Grand Slams, the impact of the Williams sisters can be seen in the rising young tennis stars who idolize them.
But the Williams sisters’ groundbreaking contributions to tennis go beyond their on-court achievements. They have also helped emerging young talent in the coaching ranks by giving them a chance to work on their teams.
Jermaine Jenkins, who was a former hitting partner for Venus Williams, is now Naomi Osaka’s coach. His brother, Jarmere, is Serena Williams’ current hitting partner — yes, Jarmere Jenkins is that guy sitting next to her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, in Serena Williams’ box.
“Venus and Serena have wanted to make an impact on the sport in a positive way,” Jermaine Jenkins said. “For me, it touches home when I get to work with people I admire, like working with the Williamses. They’re an inspiration to anyone, their perseverance and dedication to excellence, no matter what they’re doing in life.”
The Williams sisters gave the Jenkins brothers opportunities. And, just like the sisters themselves, the brothers’ tennis journey started with their father.
The Jenkins brothers, who grew up on the south side of Atlanta with seven other siblings, both point to an old tennis racket their dad, Jackie, found in the garage.
“He picked up a racket at age 27,” Jermaine Jenkins said. “He played ALTA, which is a competitive community of tennis in Atlanta, and he thought, ‘Why not get my kids involved?’ I started at the age of 4 years old.”
Their father saw tennis as a motivational tool. “It was a way out,” Jarmere Jenkins said.
The brothers say tennis kept them out of trouble. They looked forward to coming home from school and getting right to practice. Homework always came after practice, but it got done.
“I was that kid who would just hang around the tennis courts and be like, ‘Are you done with your match? Hit with me. Can you hit with me now? Now?’ ” Jarmere Jenkins said.
Jermaine Jenkins, now 34 years old, and Jarmere Jenkins, 28, have always been highly competitive.
“As a kid, I saw how good my older brother was getting. And I was kind of like, ‘All right, I’ve gotta do better than him,’ ” Jarmere Jenkins said.
Jermaine Jenkins landed a full ride to Clemson University, where he became an All-American. It was there he also learned the tenets of coaching under the legendary Chuck Kriese. Possessing a levelheaded nature, Jenkins was encouraged by members of the staff to pursue coaching.
Through some college connections, Jenkins got a tryout to be a hitting partner for Venus Williams in 2016. “It was supposed to be for two weeks; I ended up staying three years,” Jenkins recalled.
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When Venus Williams fired her longtime coach David Witt this past offseason, Jenkins was part of that shake-up. But it didn’t take long for Jenkins, who said he parted with Venus Williams on good terms, to find another job. Kathy Rinaldi, the USTA’s head of player development for women’s tennis, called Jenkins soon afterward about working with Coco Gauff. He was “thrilled for the challenge” to work with the young prodigy and traveled with Gauff until late February, when Osaka’s team contacted him.
Osaka had been working with coach Sascha Bajin, who was a former longtime hitting partner for Serena Williams. It was a fruitful partnership. Before working with Bajin, Osaka had not won a WTA tournament. While working with him, she won Indian Wells and two Grand Slams and became the No. 1 player in the world. And Bajin was named WTA Coach of the Year.
But then Osaka fired him, shocking the tennis world.
The 21-year-old star alluded to her decision to break with Bajin saying that her happiness was more important than her success.
The choice of her next coach, Jenkins, speaks to what she may have been looking for: someone who was more like her.
“I like to think of myself as someone who radiates peace,” said Jenkins. His laid-back nature may have appealed to Osaka, who by her own admission is sensitive and emotional.
“We have similar temperaments,” Jenkins said.
Osaka’s results, however, have been mixed since Jenkins took over as coach. She regained her No. 1 ranking earlier this year, but after losing in the quarterfinals of the US Open, she will likely relinquish her No. 1 ranking to Ashleigh Barty again.
Still, Jenkins is seen as a rising star in the coaching world. He also was responsible for helping his brother nab a top gig in tennis.
When Serena Williams needed a new hitting partner upon her return from maternity leave, she saw how rock steady Jenkins was with her sister. She asked Jenkins if he knew of anyone like him. Jenkins immediately recommended his brother.
Like Jenkins and their older brother Jackie Jr., who played at Northwestern, Jarmere Jenkins earned a full scholarship to play tennis. “There was no other way for my dad to pay for college,” he said. He attended the University of Virginia, where he became an All-American.
After graduation, he was determined to take a hard run at professional tennis. He won some Futures events, competed on the Challenger Tour and lost in qualifying at the Australian Open. He was able to reach No. 191 in the world but a lack of money stopped him, he said.
“I was doing decent,” Jarmere Jenkins said. “It’s just, tennis is such an expensive sport. You need coaches, you need physios, you need equipment, and the numbers just weren’t adding up. I had to stop playing.”
He started coaching a player in Puerto Rico and was making progress until Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. With Puerto Rico devastated, Jarmere Jenkins came back to the U.S. mainland and started working in finance, wondering if his tennis career was over.
Then he heard from his brother.
“I got this text one day saying, ‘How would you like to work with the GOAT?’ And I got up out of bed, and I was like, ‘You gotta be kidding me!’ ” Jarmere Jenkins said of the chance to work with Serena Williams.
Jarmere Jenkins interviewed with Mouratoglou, and it went well. It helped that Williams’ husband, Alexis Ohanian, had also attended UVA — they had that connection. Jarmere Jenkins had met Williams and her family previously, going with Jenkins to the “Williams Invitational.” The event is a casual, fun family weekend with dancing and competitive games that the Williams sisters host each year. So Jarmere Jenkins was a familiar face. The whole thing was a good fit.
The weight attached to the rare opportunity that the Williams sisters have given the Jenkins brothers is not lost on them. Especially with so few black coaches in professional tennis.
“I’d be a fool to say the color of my skin doesn’t matter,” Jermaine Jenkins said. “You always have to be on your A-plus game.”