For 11-year-old Andrew Ena, it was a little bit of a dream come true — playing tennis against a pro at the U.S. Open.
But there was the boy from Rego Park smacking the ball back and forth with professional player Noah Rubin from Merrick, rallying from the baseline, chasing down a drop shot, running down a lob.
Later, after hitting a few points with the pro, came an even bigger thrill for Andrew at the Arthur Ashe Kids Day, which serves as the kickoff to the U.S. Open. He was among a bunch of kids brought on the court at the big stadium to hit balls in front of thousands of spectators, and then got his picture taken with superstar Serena Williams.
"I love it," said the boy who dreams of playing here as a pro. "There's so much energy here. You feel it."
The U.S. Open tournament, which begins Monday, will gather the greatest competitors in the tennis universe at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens. But before all those fast-paced, hard-pounding battles, the organizers did something for the kids: a family day that felt like a neighborhood fair with games, face-painting and balloon animals.
Along with a chance to meet your favorite tennis players.
The U.S. Open is celebrating its milestone 50th year, and this was the 23rd annual Kids Day. The event commemorates the late Arthur Ashe and his vision of extending the sport to young people while instilling the values of humanitarianism, organizers said.
"We pay tribute to Arthur Ashe as a champion both on and off the court and a leader for civil rights, equal rights and human rights," said Gordon Smith, executive director of the United States Tennis Association.
Under a canopy of blue skies, with the kind of summer weather we dream about, thousands of parents and kids strolled the grounds of the sprawling tennis complex. Dads propped their kids on their shoulders; other parents walked hand-in-hand with their kids. They feasted on ice cream and massive platters of nachos between watching pros practice and chasing down autographs.
Along the way, Steven Allen and his daughter Savannah, 7, stopped to have her face painted with rainbows over her eyes and a yellow tennis ball above them. Along outdoor walkways filled with jugglers and unicycle riders, the Bronx father and daughter stopped to watch a magician in a sparkly hat split a silk scarf in half and make it disappear.
What was Savannah looking forward to the most?
"I'm going to play tennis!" she said with an enthusiasm that made her father smile.
Watching the practice session of Argentine pro Juan Martin del Potro, Elijah Gil, 8, from the Bronx, got a thrill when the player tossed a towel to him. Elijah wore that towel around his neck the rest of the day.
Perhaps the most charming scene occurred on a grassy corner of the complex, where Chris Davanney and his wife, Svetlana, of Union, New Jersey, made a little picnic for their family, including 16-month-old boy, James.
Holding a red tennis racket about as tall as himself, James chased and swatted at tennis balls tossed by his mother. His father happily captured it all on his smartphone camera.
"We'll cherish this for a long time," said the father.