Jamie Hampton will be playing in her first career French Open main draw.
© Ron Angle
Jamie Hampton reached the fourth round of the 2012 BNP Paribas Open.
© Robert Laberge/Getty Images
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
With the success of multiple American teenagers in the last year, including Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens, another young U.S. player, Jamie Hampton, has also made noise this season.
She scored her first Grand Slam win at the Australian Open as a qualifier and reached the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open, where she led current world No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska in the third set, before having to retire due to illness.
Hampton, however, while a new name to many fans, is not one of the teenagers. She is 22 and a bit of a late bloomer, not turning pro until she was 19, as a wrist injury held her back from reaching her full potential in her teens and turning pro sooner.
But whatever her age, Hampton’s talent has been on display this year, after an off-season switch to training with USTA Player Development in Boca Raton, Fla., and she is now preparing to play in her first career Roland Garros main draw. It will also be her first time competing in a Grand Slam main draw as a direct entry.
"The end of last year was a little tough for me. I started the year well and didn’t finish it the way I would have liked," Hampton, currently ranked No. 87, said. "But I put it aside, worked hard (in the off-season), and it is good to see hard work paying off. This is my first Grand Slam as a direct entrant. It is a bit of a milestone for me, and I think it is something to be proud of."
During the off-season, USTA coaches gave her a plan to put all the weapons of her game together, and since Charleston in April, she has been specifically working with USTA Lead National Coach Tom Gullikson.
She decided it was time for a change last year, after not finishing the season as strong as she would have liked. But she put it behind her and worked hard on fitness in the off-season, as well, including both strength and cardio training.
"They help me put together what my game should be like at the top level," Hampton said of the USTA coaches. "And so that was really nice for me because it was a direct path of what I needed to do.
"We worked on shot selection and just making the right decisions at the right time," she added. "That has helped my game a lot, as well as combining that with improved fitness. Everything is still a work in progress to get better."
Hampton, who is half South Korean, was born in Germany while her father was in the U.S. Army (her parents met in South Korea while her father was stationed there) but grew up in Auburn, Ala., and trained for many years in Atlanta, sometimes with Melanie Oudin, and spent many days commuting back and forth from home in Auburn to training in Atlanta on the same day.
She played with wrist pain from age 15 to 18, hoping to avoid having surgery, but the pain started preventing her from hitting her signature shot, her backhand, effectively. By 18, the pain was so bad she could barely play, and she finally had surgery at 19.
After surgery, however, she was able to return to training just a few weeks later pain-free, and she turned pro just a few months later.
"I always wanted to give going pro a try," Hampton said. "That was always my goal when I was younger, so when (my wrist) was fixed, it gave me a very clear path of what I wanted to do.
"Everyone has been emphasizing the young Americans, but I am 22. I am not terribly old," she added of her somewhat late success. "The standard these days is young Americans, but I feel like the tour is getting older. I am a little bit of a late bloomer because there are a lot of different aspects to my game and it is kind of difficult to manage sometimes. I turned pro when I was 19. Everyone else turns pro at 15, 16."
This year, Hampton, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 85 in March, learned a lot from playing some of the game’s best, including Maria Sharapova, to whom she lost in the second round in Australia. She is on track to play the main draw of all four Grand Slams in a year for the first time, including her first career appearance at Wimbledon, with few WTA Tour points to defend until the US Open.
Since losing to Sharapova, she has also worked on maintaining her court positioning and not letting opponents push her back, as well as trying to take the ball early and take time away from her opponent. She also traveled and practiced with the U.S. Fed Cup Team for its World Group Playoff against Ukraine in April, giving her more time to continue to work on her game.
She hopes the results of all her work will continue to pay off in Paris and through the rest of the year.
"I really like my first Grand Slam win," Hampton said of Australia, in terms of her best moment so far this year. "It made me feel like I belonged there; it wasn’t a fluke that I can play on the main stage at the Grand Slams.
"For me, it just proves hard work does pay off," she added. "I put a lot in this off-season. It does a lot for my confidence. I worked a lot on my fitness so your mind kind of follows your body. If you feel good about yourself, it comes out in your play, as well."