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For kids, many happy returns at the NY Tennis Expo

Noah Bakhash 7, of Brooklyn, volleys Saturday at

Noah Bakhash 7, of Brooklyn, volleys Saturday at the event at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum.   Credit: Corey Sipkin

On such a chilly day, what better option than taking the kids to a free indoor event where they could bop tennis balls, shoot baskets, trample over a padded obstacle course — and even get their faces painted.  

That's what Long Islanders found at the New York Tennis Expo on Saturday, which transformed the exhibition hall of NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum into a whirling, buzzing vortex of excited kids.

The one-day Expo marked the start of the New York Open, a week of professional tennis at the Coliseum. But kids didn't have to love tennis to want to take off their shoes and jump like mad in the inflated bouncy house, or go barefoot onto the beach tennis court, which had loads of yellow sand. 

"It's a way to spend time with them, especially with this weather; to have them smile and have fun," said Carmen Flores, 26, of Hempstead, as she watched her 7-year-old daughter Katherine bound over the Ninja obstacle course, finish it and run back to do it again.

The event felt like a tennis carnival.  For those in Long Island's tennis community, it presented an opportunity to come together and have some fun while getting some tips from pros.

Looking like a child-sized version of tennis great Bjorn Borg, 10-year-old Adrien Weber — his long blond hair crested with a white headband — got to play some hits on the Coliseum's tennis court against a college player.

The East Hampton boy hopes to become a pro. His mother, Sarah, takes him all the way to Randall's Island three times a week to train. He can serve a tennis ball at 75 mph. He also enjoyed listening to a talk by legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, who has worked with players such as Andre Agassi and Serena Williams.

"He said run after every ball no matter what," Adrien said as he chomped down a hot dog and giant pretzel. "And dream big."

Perhaps the greatest frenzy of fun was over at the mini-tennis courts. A dozen kids played simultaneously in a small space with four nets. Tennis balls were flying everywhere.

This was 8-year-old Addyson Finn's first time hitting a tennis ball, and her mother thought it a fun introduction to a sport she had played as a kid.

"I took private lessons from about the age of 8 to 13," said Liz Finn, of Wantagh. She hopes to pass on her tennis racket to her little girl.

Addyson, for her part, was swinging madly at everything that came her way, smiling and giggling at virtually every shot she made.

"I thought it was easy, watching Serena Williams on TV," she said. "But it's hard."

Not far away, Elisa Sun watched with a mother's joy as her 3-year-old son, Preston, got his own introduction to the game. His favorite activity: jumping up and down with a bucket of tennis balls, watching them fall out and bounce all over the place.

With aisle after aisle filled with vendor tables — from a sports psychologist to numerous tennis camps and facilities — an incredible amount of freebies were handed out. People filled bags with stress balls that looked like tennis balls, along with pens, water bottles, key chains, balloon animals, sunglasses and more. 

Parents walked around with their arms filled with bags of treats and jackets, chasing their kids as they bounced from game to game.

When Samantha Levy, 7, of Roslyn Heights, was done dusting the sand off her bare feet at the beach tennis court, she breathlessly let her father know her next priority was the bouncy house.

"I want to go now!" she said.


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