February 23rd, 2017

Junior Player Profile: St. Johns’ Imani Graham

Junior Tournaments Youth Tennis News

Recently I met up with 15 year-old Florida junior competitive player Imani Graham, and she shared some of her life and love for tennis with us as well as what Black History Month means to her.  

With two parents who are educators, Imani has strong educational influences and is a 9th grade Virtual School student enrolled in all honors and AP classes, living in St. Johns, just south of Jacksonville.  Outside of her studies she enjoys spending time with family and friends, traveling, and playing tennis.  Imani comes from a close and competitive, family.  “We compete at everything as a family,” she said.

Here’s what else Imani had to say:

How did you get involved in tennis?

My father received tickets to attend the Baush & Lomb professional tennis tournament in Amelia Island.  At the time, I was 4 years old and I had the opportunity to watch Venus Williams and Lindsey Davenport play.

Why tennis and no other sport?

I was involved in gymnastics and dance prior to being introduced to tennis. When I was 3 years old I participated in my first dance recital. However, once I attended the Bausch & Lomb tournament I knew I wanted to be a tennis player.  I love the challenge and competition.  Also, I working hard to be the best.

Who has been your biggest influence in tennis?

I had an opportunity to meet Venus Williams in South Florida and I was also able to watch her practice. I witnessed first hand her determination and passion for the game. I was inspired and started incorporating some of the great things that she did in my own game.  My parents and coaches, Adam Altschuler and Jared Jacobs, have also been a big influence in tennis.

What is the significance of Black History Month to you?

I firmly believe that the world is a better place because of the many contributions from so many people who commit to making a difference no matter the skin color or cultural background. I enjoy learning more about Black history because of all of the positive contributions to society.

Do you currently celebrate this month? If so, how?

Yes, I celebrate this month by reading, exploring museums, and learning more about Black history.  In fact, my grandmother (Delores A. Graham) attended Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University with Althea Gibson who really paved the way for African Americans participating in professional tennis.

Who is your favorite player?

I have a few favorite tennis players because each player enlightens me and brings a certain aspect of the game. I learn how to improve my mental game and how a champion competes from Serena.  I also love Venus because her game style is similar to mine and she is calm like I am on the court.  Bethanie Mattek-Sands is also one of my all-time favorites. She is a fierce competitor and I love how she creates her own fashion style on and off the courts. She has taught me how to be more aggressive at doubles especially at the net. I also love Novak Djokovic. His matches are very fun for me to watch.

What do you think has contributed to the growth of tennis and the participation of the African American community in the recreational and competitive levels over the years?

I believe that Venus and Serena Williams gave many African American boys and girls a dream that if they worked hard they could play professional tennis. It is such an inspirational story of where they grew up in the tough area of Compton, Calif., and now they are two of the best tennis players of all time.

What do you like the most about tennis and how has it impacted your life?

Tennis is a lifelong sport. It is a sport in which you must be mentally and physically tough. Tennis is one of the only sports that players do not receive coaching and constant feedback while playing a match at the junior level. I also enjoy the process of working hard to improve my game and winning a match that I may not have won a few months ago.  I am constantly working to improve my tennis game and get better. One of my favorite quotes is, “The road to success is always under construction.” Through tennis, I have met some amazing people who will be lifelong friends. I have had an opportunity to travel to different countries, speak the language in these different countries, and learn the cultures of these countries, too. A tennis player must be flexible, disciplined, and intrinsically motivated. Tennis has taught me life skills that will carry over to my adulthood that will definitely help me in the present and also in the near future.

What are you most proud of as a person and as a tennis player? 

I am most proud of my faith, family, and being able to do what I love everyday!  I have an opportunity to do what I thoroughly love and really enjoy doing it!

What is your current ranking?

Currently, I am No. 2 in Florida in the girls 16’s. I am Top 200 in ITF, but I am planning on playing more ITF’s over the next few months to improve my world junior ranking. I started playing ITF’s in June of 2016.

What are your dreams as a person and tennis player?

I want to be both the best person and best tennis player that I can possibly be.  My main goals are to become the No. 1 player in the world and win a Grand Slam event.

In Florida, when I first started playing tennis my goal was to be the best in Florida.

What message do you have for parents and children looking for a sport to play?

I would encourage parents to assist their child or children with finding a sport that they truly love and support them fully. Parents can look for all of the clues as to whether or not their child loves the sport. For instance, how they prepare for the sport and if they excited to practice. Neither of my parents were tennis players. My dad played baseball and football and my mom was on the track team in middle and high school. My parents supported me during practice and tournaments. We all hate losing more than we love winning so as a family we are all committed to excellence. It is essential to find your passion and work hard to achieve your goals.  As my father often reminds me, your dreams can come true if you are committed to making your dreams a reality!