When I spoke with Jamie Loeb on Thursday she had just completed her daily training at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randall’s Island, her typical stomping grounds for tennis practice for the last four years. Loeb, 20, was days away from making her pro debut at the hallowed courts of Flushing Meadows, Queens, which lies in the shadow of the UFO-like edifices of the 1964 World’s Fair.
About a twenty-five-minute drive from Randall’s Island, the top players in the world were getting in their swings and volleys at the U.S. Open courts, readying themselves for this week’s action on the actual courts of play. Sure to be among them was Caroline Wozniacki, the former World. No. 1 (and currently World No. 4) who represents Loeb’s opening-round opponent.
But the 5-foot-6 World No. 411, who decided two weeks ago to go pro and forgo her Junior year at UNC, isn’t deterred: “I’m going to treat it like another match,” said Loeb.
And winning is something Loeb knows plenty about, perhaps because it’s in her blood.
The youngest of four siblings, Loeb grew up in what she calls “the definition of a tennis family.” They attended the U.S. Open every year. Loeb’s mother served as her first coach, and she began to hit balls at the age of 5. Her eldest brother Jason, who is fifteen years her senior, played tennis at Springfield College and traveled with Loeb to her competitions on the junior circuit. Her brother Justin, who is 12 years her senior, is a tennis teacher and coach; and Loeb’s older sister Jenna, who is nine years her senior, is a three-time state champion (from Ossining High School) who played at Wake Forest. But Jamie is the first to go pro.
Are they jealous? I asked her.
“No, they’re supportive,” she said. “They know it’s been my dream [to go pro] for a while. They know I’ve accomplished everything I possible could in college tennis [at the University of North Carolina]. Now is the best chance for me to fulfill my dreams.”
This also means that Loeb is playing tennis full-time, and no longer hangs around the Carolina campus, where she became the No. 1 singles player, becoming the first freshman in nearly 30 years to win both the Riviera/ITA Women’s All-American Championship and the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship. (Loeb’s victory at the NCAA Championships this past spring ensured her a spot at the U.S. Open).
To get ready for her match with Wozniacki, Loeb says she’ll listen to some techno or rap, namely Lil Wayne, Avicii and David Guetta. (Recently, she saw Chris Brown and Tyga in concert with some of her UNC classmates, who have now returned to campus for the school year.)
And if the music doesn’t work in her effort to secure a opening-round upset of Wozniacki, perhaps Loeb can find some inspiration from her tennis idol Kim Clijsters, the former World. No. 1 who won her first U.S. Open in 2005 at the age of 22.
“I’m happy to be [competing at the U.S. Open],” said Loeb. “But at the same time I do want to win.”
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.