Meet the two brothers who are the hitting partners for Serena and Venus Williams, Jarmere and Jermaine Jenkins. While they’ve made it on the biggest stage in their sport, they both assure it was no easy feat.
Both brothers hail from Atlanta, Georgia, although they spent most of their time traveling back and forth to Florida while they were young players of the game. “My dad picked up the game of tennis at 25, and he passed it along to us,” said Jermaine, the older of the two siblings.
Jarmere started working with Serena about a year ago, after he played tennis professionally for four years and at the University of Virginia. The self-proclaimed “huge tennis nerd” was given a recommendation by his older brother, Jermaine, who has recently been hired as the USTA National Coach for Women’s Tennis after playing for years and being a college standout at Clemson University.
The Jenkins brothers spoke with 7|X about the biggest life lessons they’ve conquered while achieving their dreams in the world of tennis, including their triumphs and failures in between.
Read the full interview with the dynamic duo below.
Although you’ve always been good at tennis, when did you become passionate about it?
Jermaine: I think that you find out along your journey in multiple ways, like every time I tried to quit the sport or every time I tried to step away from it, it always called me back. I have an older brother (Jackie) who pretty much set the pathway for us. He was really good at the sport and I watched him travel and I’ve seen all the things manifest in his life and I wanted that for myself so, for sure I saw myself doing this when I was younger.
Jarmere: I would say that I knew that when I was eight years old, it was always in the back of my mind, watching my older brother play. Whenever they would go to a tournament, I would just beg my dad to go and kind of just tag along and be by his side the whole time. As soon as Jermaine or Jackie would finish, I would beg them to hit with me. I was happy when I would be there for six or seven hours straight. I guess that wasn’t normal, but I would just be having fun. Some kids would say, “I have to go to tennis practice”, and I would think, “Wow, I get to go play tennis.”
I remember losing in the final in my first tournament, and I would say that set a fire under me. I thought that I’d never want to lose again. I was super, super competitive.
So in terms of making this passion a career for yourself, how did that manifest?
Jermaine: I had a buddy who was Serena’s former hitting partner at the time and he called me and said that Venus needed someone to train with and asked if I would mind practicing with her. So that was a door opened for me and at the time I had just moved to Florida and I was available to do it. I drove to West Palm (Beach) and we hit it off and had a great session. One thing led to the next and at the time it was August 2015, and I let her know that I was in New York and sent her a text to tell her that I could practice with her. Next thing I knew we’re at the U.S. Open, and from there one thing led to the next.
Jarmere: After school, it was something that I always wanted to do even before school—play professionally. It was never a question of me going pro. It was always when I was going to do it. UVA was the no. 1 ranked school at the time, plus they had a really good academic program. I had a great career there and kind of just made the transition naturally into the pros. I was able to pick up some sponsors early on and plan on a career (in the sport). I knew when I had enough support, and had been winning matches that I would have enough support to make a living from it.
Talk about teachable moments. What life lessons had you learned as your dream came to fruition?
Jarmere: I would say the most I learned from being on tour is to surround yourself with people who truly believe in you. It’s so easy to snowball in tennis because you’re playing almost every week and most of the time, unless you’re the top five people in the world, you’re losing almost every week. So it’s tough to stay positive and optimistic at times. That’s where a great support system can come in to keep you on the right track.
Jermaine: Tennis has taught me that you have to be held accountable for your own actions and every decision you make. Tennis also teaches you discipline and to do your best because you’re the only one out there. You can’t really depend on a coach or anyone because it’s just you and your opponent. It’s also really important for anyone in this sport to make long-term goals, to be the tortoise and not the hare. Make small improvements, little by little.
What have you learned from Serena and/or Venus?
Jarmere: I’ve learned that whatever you want in life, if you really set your mind to it you can do anything. Serena’s mental strength is like so powerful and just watching how it plays out is like surreal to see how it works. There has been so many times where we’d go to a tournament and she wouldn’t be ready physically or even when we went to Wimbledon, she made the final but the team didn’t think we were where we were supposed to be at that time. It was just all her mental strength and she wanted it that bad. It’s like you can see it, and most people can’t display that out loud on such a stage. So that’s been the most thing that I’ve learned from her: Nothing is impossible.
Jermaine: What I’ve learned from Venus is just that you really have to believe in what you believe in. Like she really believes in everything her dad taught her. To this day, she is very respectful to her parents. Also her work ethic, she pretty much works harder than anybody still to this day. I would say her determination – she has an autoimmune illness—so her ability to stay determined and just her will speaks for itself. She’s very competitive and fights through it.
What is a life goal that you have still yet to achieve?
Jarmere: To be a dad and to have kids.
Jermaine: I feel like I’m living my dream. I’m traveling the world, I don’t have to compete, per sé, but I am still training them, and I’m getting all the benefits of what any professional with the places that they can go. I’m pretty much living doing everything that I wanted to do.
What music is on your playlist right now?
Jarmere: Wiz Khalifa, Drake, Frank Ocean, Mac Miller, and Money Man.
Jermaine: I listen to a lot of pre-set playlists on Spotify. When I’m working out, I’d say Meek Mill, T.I., Drake (not the crying Drake!) and Alicia Keys (depending on the mood).
Who do you admire that is doing amazing work in their community right now?
Jarmere: Lebron James. I just thought that the move that he made with the “I Promise” school is something that is going to set him apart from being one of the greatest basketball players to pick up the sport. For me, when I see people in that position, where so much is being expected of them, I think that this guy just rises to the occasion on all aspects of life. He’s just a great role model for everyone.
Jermaine: There’s a motivational speaker named Eric Thomas. I think everywhere he goes, he does a great job.
Jermaine’s final thought is how excited he is about what 2019 brings, including his career journey and the lives he will touch in the future by motivating and inspiring others. Jermaine added, “I’m excited to know how far we can really take this, my brother and I. I’m excited for our inspiration beyond tennis for anyone.”