This article was written by John Frierson for Georgiadogs.com. To view the original article, click here.
Natalie Frazier Jenkins didn’t come to Georgia to be a pioneer or trailblazer. She was an elite player from the Atlanta area and one of the top programs in all of women’s college tennis happened to be about 75 miles away in Athens. It turned out to be a perfect fit.
“I think about those days all the time,” Jenkins said. “I loved playing for Georgia.”
“She was one of the best competitors that I’ve ever coached,” said Georgia coach Jeff Wallace, one of only two coaches in women’s college tennis history with at least 750 wins.
“You just knew what you were going to get every single day. Not only in matches but just as importantly, in practice. She just gave it her all in everything thing that she did. She made coaching her a lot of fun because of that.”
When Jenkins, from Riverdale, signed with Georgia, she became the first African-American to do so in the program’s history. In the fall of 2003, the Bulldogs had two Black freshmen, Jenkins and Shadisha Robinson. While Jenkins was a star junior that was staying close to home for college, Robinson was a New York native that had trained at multiple academies on the East Coast.
“I was just looking for the best players in the state of Georgia, the best players in the Southeast, the best players in the country, the best players in the world, like I always do,” Wallace said of signing the team’s first African-American players. “I’ve never really looked at it like, she’s an African-American so I need to get her. She was just the best player that could help our program tremendously.”
Jenkins grew up with Georgia and Georgia Tech, two very good programs, nearby, but when she was thinking about playing in college they weren’t at the top of her list initially. She wanted to go out of state, to the West Coast, and experience something different.
“But then Jeff contacted me and I was like, OK, let me take a look at Georgia, because I knew Georgia was really good,” she said. “I also was looking at Harvard at the time because my older sister went to Harvard. I just wanted to get out of the state.”
Jenkins took a recruiting visit to UGA “and, of course, was blown away by the tennis, but the academics were also just as good. For me, that was something that I was looking for because education was always a big thing in my household.”
As it turned out, she said, “everything I wanted in a school was at Georgia.” And she realized that she wanted to be close to home and her family, especially once her grandmother began having some health problems right around the time that Jenkins was deciding on where she wanted to go to school.
“When I signed for Georgia, I didn’t even think about it,” she said of her place in history. “Then my coach was like, ‘You realize you’re the first African-American woman to ever sign for the University of Georgia, right?’ It wasn’t on my radar until someone told me about it. …
“Once I found out I was like, oh, that’s pretty cool. But it wasn’t something where I was like, I’m going to go to Georgia and this is the one thing I’m going to do. I feel like my work ethic got me to Georgia and the fact that I’ve always had really high grades, but then to be the first was like a cherry on top.”
Both Jenkins and Robinson went on to earn All-American honors at Georgia. Jenkins, who was ranked No. 5 in the country in singles at the end of her senior year, graduated with a degree in Accounting and went on to earn a master’s degree as well. Robinson was ranked as high as No. 1 in doubles and No. 6 in singles before leaving UGA after her junior year.
With Jenkins leading the way in 2007, her senior season, Georgia won the SEC regular-season and tournament titles — she was the SEC tournament MVP — and finished with a record of 24-2 and a final ranking of No. 4 in the country. Jenkins was named All-American that season and was the ITA Southeast Region Senior Player of the Year.
“Year-to-year, she just kept working and kept fighting and competing,” Wallace said. “Nobody wanted to play her because they just knew it was going to be the biggest battle ever. She would just lay it out there for the Dawgs like nobody’s business.”
Along with her great play on the court, Jenkins was named to the SEC Community Service Team three times (2005-07) and made the SEC Academic Honor Roll all four years. After graduating, she played professionally for a while and even participated in the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, before returning to Georgia to get a master’s degree in Accounting.
Though her competitive playing days are well behind her, tennis is very much still a part of Jenkins’ life. She is married to former Clemson All-American Jermaine Jenkins, who for several years was Venus Williams’ hitting partner before spending eight months as Naomi Osaka’s coach. He is now a USTA Player Development coach and the family lives in the Orlando, Fla., area, near the USTA National Campus at Lake Nona.
Natalie, who works for the accounting firm Ernst & Young, and Jermaine had their first child on Aug. 3, which is why Natalie hasn’t spent much time on the court lately. She still loves the game — and played up until the 37th week of her pregnancy — and can’t wait to play regularly again.
“I kind of live vicariously through (Jermaine) and through Georgia women’s tennis,” she joked. “My goal is to get back out there sometime this year.”
During the 2007 season, the Georgia women and men both spent time ranked No. 1 in the country, and the men, led by senior John Isner, went on to go undefeated and win the first of back-to-back NCAA titles. It was a particularly special time to be a Georgia tennis player, Jenkins said.
“It was pretty awesome because it’s kind of like the standard was just excellence,” she said. “To me, it’s all about your environment. If I’m tired on court 2 but court 3 is working hard, I’m going to give 110% because I know court 3 is giving 110%. And it wasn’t just one person on the team doing it, it was everybody doing it.
“To see it on the guys’ side and to see it on the women’s side, it was pretty surreal. I loved the whole environment, I thought it was great.”
Assistant Sports Communications Director John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He’s also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.