By Amanda Korba, special to USTA.com
In 1997, high school freshman Brandon Jackson was sitting on his couch when he came upon the US Open women’s final. No. 66-ranked Venus Williams, making her US Open debut, was battling it out against world No. 1 Martina Hingis in the new Arthur Ashe Stadium. Jackson sat and watched in awe of the two top-tier athletes and immediately fell in love with tennis.
That week Jackson decided to take up the game. He has never left.
After playing four years of varsity tennis on his high school team in Ore City, Texas, Jackson moved up north to attend college at the University of Minnesota, where he became actively involved in the school’s USTA Tennis On Campus program for seven years.
Tennis On Campus is a coed, team-based program with regional and national championship competition. It is designed to allow those who love tennis to pursue the sport without the rigors of a varsity program and emphasizes sportsmanship and social networking. The program is offered on more than 500 college campuses and has attracted more than 30,000 students.
Jackson was affiliated with the University of Minnesota USTA Tennis On Campus program for his entire college career and served as the team’s president. Under his guidance, Minnesota became one of the premier club teams in the country, advancing to the season-ending USTA National Campus Championship every year since 2004 and placing in the Top 30 on a number of occasions. Along the way, Jackson met Tennis Hall-of-Famer Billie Jean King and collected countless memories.
"Tennis On Campus has been one of, if not the top highlight of my college career," Jackson said last year, his final season at the university before graduating. "I have so much fun spending time with my teammates. Our team has great camaraderie, and we love to meet people from other schools who share the same passion for tennis."
When Jackson first became involved with Tennis On Campus during his freshman year in 2004, it was difficult to find even 10 players to compete. However, Jackson’s team grew to 35 players. In 2010, the team sent one squad to the 64-team USTA National Campus Championship in Surprise, Ariz., just as they do each year. The team also sent one squad to the first-ever Tennis On Campus Spring Invitational - West in Tucson, Ariz. Jackson and his doubles partner went undefeated competing in Tucson, and his team reached the final of the silver bracket. The other Minnesota squad came in fifth in the silver bracket of the USTA National Campus Championship in Surprise.
Jackson graduated with his master’s degree in sports management and coaching last spring, leaving his beloved college club tennis team behind. But that didn’t stop him from competing. In fact, he decided to take his game to the next level by vying for a spot in the tournament he loves most—the US Open.
Jackson competed in the USTA Northern Sectional Qualifying Tournament of the US Open National Playoffs in Sartell, Minn., last June. In the first year of the US Open National Playoffs, the US Open became "open," and more than 1,200 players nationwide vied for wild cards into the 2010 US Open Qualifying Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for their chance to play in America’s Grand Slam.
Before attending the USTA National Campus Championship in his final year of school, Jackson logged on to USTA.com to catch up on the latest tennis news and Tennis On Campus information and read about the US Open National Playoffs.
"When I realized that I had the chance to try out for the US Open, I thought, ‘You have to be kidding me!’" Jackson says. "Tennis is my outlet, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to do something like this."
Jackson lost his first-round match but valued his time competing in the tournament.
"It was a great experience competing in the US Open National Playoffs, for sure," says Jackson. "I plan on returning this year."
Since graduating from school, Jackson continues to stay involved in tennis. He served as a head coach for a high school tennis team in Minnesota for one season and played on a local USTA League team. He has since taken a temporary substitute teaching job in his hometown of Ore City, Texas, where he is also serving as a volunteer tennis coach for the local high school. However, he plans to move back to Minnesota to coach that same high school tennis team full-time and play on his favorite USTA League team.
Jackson says that his next tennis dream involves a trip to the US Open—the tournament he has never attended.
"I cannot even imagine how cool the US Open would be," says Jackson. "I really hope Serena will be back. I would love to see her and Venus play."