Hoards of tennis tykes and teens filed into Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens on Saturday to catch a glimpse of their favorite star players — and get tips on how to play like a champ — as the professionals prepare to take center court for the U.S. Open.
Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, the annual family-friendly event that precedes the tournament, which begins Monday, kicked off at 9:30 a.m. at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The 5½-hour event included tennis instruction and skill development for youth, a chance to watch the pros practice and an afternoon concert hosted by Radio Disney.
Christophe Meirhaeghe, 11, of Massapequa, was among the spectators who watched top-ranked Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic volley with Eugenie Bouchard of Canada.
“I don’t even know how to hit it when it comes that fast,” said Christophe, a budding player for the past two years and an avid fan of American player Jack Sock. “If I put my arm out [to try and hit the ball], it’ll get bent back.”
“Their technique is really good, too. Like, how hard they hit,” said his sister, Sophia, 12.
Their mother, Lizette Bonitto, who is a fan of Spain’s Rafael Nadal, said the event was good exposure for her son.
“It’s fun, it’s different,” she said. “And he’s getting so into the sport we want to make sure that he sees what the pros can do. Maybe he’ll get a little more inspired and try harder to be good.”
Craig Morris, general manager of Community Tennis and Youth Tennis for the U.S. Tennis Association, said, “What we’ve done today with Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is really going to flow through for the whole event, which is really exciting.”
Over the next two weeks, as many as 500 children from the metropolitan area will be invited onto the court before each match to hit balls and participate in the pre-match coin flip, all the way through to the men’s final.
Jim Poon, 43, of North Valley Stream, brought his family to the event. “They got to play on the official U.S. Open courts. That’s where the great champions play,” he said.
Poon’s 5-year-old son, John, collected all sorts of free prizes including a fidget spinner, a piggy bank and a tote bag.
“Who knows, maybe he can play possibly here in the future,” said John’s mother, Emily Poon, 32.
Zach Herrick, 8, of the Upper West Side, who came to the event with his father, was thrilled to get a high-five from American star John Isner, one of his favorite players.
“I like how it’s not as aggressive as other sports,” Zach said. “You don’t need a lot of stuff to play.”