Young tennis fans from New York City and across the United States gathered on Sunday at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens, for the 27th Annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day.
Kids’ Day is a fantastic event that offers free entry to thousands of young kids, along with the opportunity to learn tennis tips from pros. Later in the day, there is a ticketed concert showcasing up-and-coming bands—this year included Jack & Jack, Why Don’t We, and Saving Forever—and some of the best tennis players in the world compete in skills challenges. Venus Williams and Roger Federer were fan favorites, but it was Rafael Nadal’s day.
Said co-host Alex Aiono, “I love hosting this event so much because it grows every single year, and I get to meet new bands and just have a great time.” Aiono added that this year, he was excited to meet his favorite tennis player, Williams.
Increasing the popularity of and access to tennis was very important to Arthur Ashe, the first African-American man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. A lifelong activist, Ashe was determined that tennis not be a sport just for the wealthy: He wanted children from every community to have the chance to play, and to fall in love with the game. Kids’ Day was founded in his honor in 1993 to raise money for nationwide programs that offer free or low-cost tennis lessons, as well as academic support, to more than 225,000 children each year.
At this year’s event, the buzz centered around Net Generation, the USTA’s new youth initiative. Tennis has struggled to get the attention of youth, competing with popular team sports like soccer and basketball. Access to the sport has also been a challenge. Many young American players have to drive out of state, or even move their families, to focus on their tennis. For example, 17-year-old Kayla Day, who won the 2016 Junior U.S. Open, drives two hours each way from her home in Santa Barbara, California to get to the closest USTA training center in Carson, California.
Net Generation hopes to change that. According to four-time Grand Slam champion and U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier, the point of Net Generation is “to make sure that any kid, anywhere, can find a good tennis coach or program, and parents can be rest assured about their kid’s safety because background checks are done on all coaches.”
Added former player James Blake, “The USTA’s mission with Net Generation is to get as many kids playing tennis as possible around the U.S.”
The USTA has gone all out in spreading the word for this new program, recruiting former American players Courier, Blake, Chris Evert, and Gigi Fernandez as ambassadors.
“I am a parent, and for the longest time I didn't know how to get in touch with coaches and trainers for my children—and I am from the tennis world,” said Fernandez, a Hall of Famer. “This will act as a one-stop place to find talented kids and help them understand tennis is a viable career option.”
Photographs by (from top): JP Yim/Getty Images (Federer); Gary Gershoff/WireImage (Saving Forever)