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Kids get taste of tennis at U.S. Open event

Jonathan Zayas, 2, of Staten Island participates in

Jonathan Zayas, 2, of Staten Island participates in a hitting drill Saturday during Arthur Ashe Kids' Day at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows. (Aug. 25, 2012) Credit: Barry Sloan

The loudest cheers at the U.S. Open Saturday came not for Roger Federer or Serena Williams but a boy band called Mindless Behavior whose members are known as Roc Royal, Ray Ray, Prodigy and Princeton.

"They're the best in the world," said Karine Scott, 14, of South River, N.J. "Really good singers and dancers," said her friend Anna Lorello, 15. "Awesome," Karine added.

A crowd of 25,680 attended Arthur Ashe Kids' Day, an event held annually since 1993, where professional tennis takes a backseat to obstacle courses, face painting, music and games.

Among the activities: serve speed checked by radar, where Daniel Rubinshteyn, 5, of Brooklyn, may or may not have hit a 60-mph serve.

"It wasn't," said his big brother, Andrew, 8.

"It was," said Daniel.

"Stop bickering," said their dad, Igor, 36, a doctor.

Among the boys' favorite activities at Flushing Meadows this day was the Pro Racquet Roundup, where they swung rackets weighted and balanced to pros' specifications.

"Nadal has a Babolat just like me," Andrew said.

"I have Federer's racket for real," Daniel said.

"No, you don't," Andrew said.

While that was being sorted out, Indijhan Richard, 6, of Brooklyn, was tearing through the skills court, swinging mightily at a succession of tennis balls mounted waist-high for him like T-balls. "I'm spending the month with my dad and it's a lot of fun," he said. "I've always wanted to see tennis."

Exposure was key, agreed his dad, Nino, 29, a DJ booker. "I want him to have things I didn't have when I was younger. My parents never took me to something like this. And if he comes out of this and says, 'Dad, I want to play tennis,' great. If we go to a Broadway play and he says, 'Dad, I want to be an actor,' that's great too."

Indijhan did not recognize the names of the players in this year's tournament -- "I'm only 6," he reasonably pointed out -- and in this he was not alone.

The name Federer barely rang a bell for Angella Christopher, 14, of Brooklyn. "I've heard of him." And she'd seen Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova. "That girl from Russia, I liked that when she lost, she said congratulations, and didn't show any hate."

As Roc Royal and Ray Ray took to the stadium stage in matching white outfits to perform -- for future reference, their songs include "My Girl," "#1 Girl," "Valentine's Girl" and "Christmas With My Girl" -- the grind of professional tennis went on outside, dozens of the world's best players serving practice points and drilling ground strokes.

"That backhand is fabulous," said Vishnu Nagara, 21, of Niskayuna, who was watching Sabine Lisicki, a German who is the 19th-best female tennis player in the world. He and his friend Josh Dubey were virtually the only ones sitting next to her court and they had no intention of leaving; they had the best seats in the house.

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