Kid's Got Star Power

July 15, 2005 11:36 AM

Comerica Challenger: Kid’s got star power

Scoville Jenkins’ look is more hip-hop than drop shot.

There’s the hair. Call them what you may — braids, cornrows, (he calls them "plats"), it’s a hairstyle that maybe a handful of tennis players in the world wear.

"A finger-ful of guys," Jenkins corrected.

He wears diamond studs in each ear, and baggy-fitting tennis gear. He wasn’t raised in a country club.

Of course, tennis players have long done their own thing.

"McEnroe had the headband," said Torrey Hawkins, Jenkins’ coach. "Everyone has their own funky deal. It’s good for the game."

Jenkins, an 18-year-old from Atlanta, Ga., does have game. He’s got a wicked serve and a devastating cross-court backhand. He’s also no-nonsense and rarely shows emotion when he’s playing. His hair is the only high- maintenance thing about him.

This week, Jenkins qualified for the quarterfinals of the Comerica Challenger at the Seascape Sports Club as a wild card entry. It’s the first time in his young career he has reached the quarterfinals of a Challenger. None of the eight seeded players at Seascape reached the final eight.

Jenkins turned pro in April 2004, and has had quite a run since. He won the U.S. Tennis Association Boys 18s Hardcourts in August, the first black player to win the event in the tournament’s 89-year history. The win earned him a wild card at the U.S. Open later that month, where he lost to Andy Roddick, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.

So far in 2005, Jenkins has made the quarterfinals of one ATP Futures event, and the semifinals of another. He also beat a top-100 player for the first time, knocking out No. 85 Anthony Dupuis of France 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 at the Bermuda Challenger. That was also the first time Jenkins reached the second round of a Challenger.

"He’s made a lot of jumps, and they’ve all been big, relatively speaking" said Hawkins, who has been coaching Jenkins since his student was 12. "The biggest thing is the jumps have continued. He hasn’t stalled our plateaued at any level. He hasn’t batted an eyelash."

Jenkins is the son of recreational tennis players Carol and Scoville Douglas Jenkins who started young Scoville on the Southwest Atlanta tennis courts at age 7. Jenkins describes the courts he grew up on as "a park with monkey bars, courts, and a field. A community park."

"I didn’t grow up playing in a country club," he said. "You don’t have to learn to play in a country club to play tennis."

Jenkins and his coach immediately hit it off when Hawkins was hired.

"He was the first person who really disciplined me on the court," Jenkins said. "He’s a conditioning specialist. I didn’t know what hard work was until I started working with Torrey."

Jenkins trains at Next Level Tennis in Atlanta, and has since Hawkins began coaching him. It’s also the training center of fellow Atlanta players Brian Vahaly, a former top-100 player now ranked No. 175, and Bobby Reynolds, another Comerica Challenger quarterfinalist, currently ranked No. 111.

Reynolds and Jenkins are in fact quarterfinal opponents, meeting today. "Sko is an unbelievable athlete, a lot of the credit goes to Torrey," Reynolds said. "It’s going to be a hard-fought match."

If his career continues on the current trajectory, Jenkins could be playing on the ATP before long. In just over a week, Jenkins’ ranking has jumped from No. 500 to No. 242. His goal for next year is to be in the top-100, then the top-50 the next year.

After that?

"I want to win the U.S. Open," Jenkins said. "And be No. 1 in the world."

No matter where he goes, Jenkins is well-respected by the tennis community, especially when they hear he’s from Atlanta. Southern music and dress, it seems, are hot pop culture items around the world.

"When the foreign guys say ‘ATL’ (slang for Atlanta), it’s pretty funny," Hawkins said.

And Hawkins, ever the understanding coach, lets Jenkins dress pretty much as he chooses.

"Sometimes at practice, he has this huge afro," Hawkins said. "I tell him, ain’t no way you’re playing in a match looking like that."