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Fans flock to USTA for Ashe Kids’ Day

By Sarina Trangle

Young tennis fans descended on the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center Saturday eager to go racket-to-racket with the pros during the annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day.

After traveling from New Hampshire, the Leclerc family was thrilled when 8-year-old Emily wound up facing twin brothers and professional American doubles players Bob and Mike Bryan at the mini-match sessions pitting pros against kids.

Karen Leclerc eagerly snapped photos of her daughter swinging on the court from nearby bleachers.

“She liked it so much she got in line and wanted to do it again,” Leclerc said “The Bryan brothers are my favorite so when they came on the court I couldn’t even believe it.”

The annual Kids’ Day is a precursor to the national US Open Tennis Championships that offers youth the chance to learn from the pros, watch players warm up and partake in a slew of non-tennis-related activities.

The day pays tribute to Arthur Ashe, a pioneering black player who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion he received after having heart surgery. Proceeds from Saturday’s event fees will go to a foundation Ashe helped create to offer youth low-cost tennis, life skills and education programs across the country.

This year’s festivities had Kiara Baker, 13, and Renee Campbell, 13, abuzz.

The two said the Washington, D.C., Department of Parks and Recreation group they came to Kids’ Day with did not depart until 3 a.m. Friday.

And they weren’t planning on heading out until they had seen Serena Williams warm up.

“We’re probably not going to leave the park until it’s 1 [a.m.],” Kiara said.

The friends detailed their plan for securing Williams’ autograph once the US Open tournament began.

“I usually come down before it ends,” Renee said, while ticking off the other tennis stars she had sign a ball. “She’s a good tennis player and she just blocks out all of the craziness.”

Still, the stadium had plenty to offer those who were not fans of the sport.

Children rushed to play volleyball against adults on stilts using a giant inflatable tennis ball.

Kids laughed while struggling to keep orbiting discs balanced on sticks.

And they lined up for an obstacle course tasking them with weaving a tennis ball around cones, jumping through a rope ladder and then serving at a target.

“It’s good,” Gabriel Nieves, 9, of Fresh Meadows, said of the several activities around him. “I’m here to have fun.”

The tennis center also hosted a slew of musical performances, storytellers, balloon artists and face painters.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at stran‌gle@c‌ngloc‌al.com.

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