Zina Garrison, sitting in the comfort of her home in Maryland, laughed into the telephone.
The United States Fed Cup captain was asked, point-blank, whether 19-year-old Jamea Jackson would be a part of the team that would engage Belgium in the July 15-16 semifinals. By way of pleading the Fifth, Garrison opted instead to talk about Jackson's effervescent personality.
"I tell her she doesn't have a million-dollar smile," Garrison said. "She has a two-million-dollar smile."
Read into that what you will. For now: America, get ready for Jamea Jackson. And, please, don't say you weren't warned.
There was a time, not very long ago, when American women were a powerful force at the All England Club.
For seven consecutive years, before the 2005 event, three or four of the eight quarterfinalists here were U.S. women. The usual suspects were Venus and Serena Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati, and Monica Seles, with a 1999 semifinals guest appearance by Alexandra Stevenson. Last year, the run ended with only two Americans in the quarters, Davenport and Venus Williams, who met in a rousing final won by Williams in the 9-7 third set.
This year, that quarterfinal quotient is likely to be one -- at best. Venus Williams is the only American woman among 32 seeds (No. 6). On Sunday, Williams took herself out of the Fed Cup running. Davenport withdrew from Wimbledon with a back injury; Serena Williams won't be back from a knee injury until next month; and Capriati and Seles are in the limbo of unannounced retirement.
Which leaves -- whom, exactly?
Although you can make a reasonable case that the next best U.S. women's player is Martina Navratilova, who turns 50 in October, the answer is, emphatically … Jackson. Although Jill Craybas and Laura Granville are ranked ahead of her (at Nos. 43 and 57, respectively), Jackson is already No. 58 and rising like a bullet.
She has the goods to be America's next important tennis player; Garrison insists Jackson has top-10 potential.
Early next week, when Garrison announces the Fed Cup team that will play in Ostend, Belgium, Jackson most assuredly will be on it, although Garrison would not confirm that and suggested she might consider changes to the rest of the team that defeated Germany 3-2 in the opening round. Jackson was the leading heroine, beating Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Martina Muller in singles.
She's America's hottest player -- man or woman, having just reached her first WTA Tour final a week ago in Birmingham, England. She defeated four seeded players -- Klara Koukalova, Jelena Jankovic, Elena Likhovtseva and the top seed and two-time defending champion, Maria Sharapova -- before losing in the final to Vera Zvonareva in two tiebreakers.
The win over Sharapova, who was ranked No. 4, compared with Jackson's No. 81, was Jackson's first over a player ranked among the top 10, a significant milestone -- particularly as Sharapova had beaten her in straight sets earlier in the year at Indian Wells, Calif. Like Sharapova and emerging Czech Republic star Nicole Vaidisova, Jackson is a product of Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy, having trained in Bradenton, Fla., since she was 11. Sharapova, who also is 19, started there when she was 9.
"I grew up with Jamea," Sharapova said at the Edgbaston Priory Club. "We played together at Bollettieri's. She has always been a really promising player."
Jackson, apparently, has begun delivery on that promise.