Brian China and his 9-year-old daughter were Long Islanders with a mission at Saturday’s U.S. Open Kids’ Day in Queens.
“Our sole goal was to see Serena,” China, 38, of Oceanside, said as Serena Williams practiced on the court about 100 feet below their grandstand seats. “Everything else is just gravy after that.”
Getting close to some of the biggest stars in tennis was one of the top attractions of the 24th annual Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, which featured an array of kid-friendly activities, most of them free.
Hundreds of people crowded the grandstands of a practice court and behind chain-link fences Saturday morning to get a glimpse of Williams, currently ranked eighth in the world.
“My little daughter loves Serena and wanted to see her, and I wanted to see her,” said Patrick Nolan, 41, of Rockville Centre.
“I love Serena, too,” Nolan’s son, also named Patrick, 7, exclaimed.
Daughter Katie, 10, called Williams “a big inspiration to a lot of people.”
“She shows people if you keep working hard, you can get to where you want,” Katie said. “And she just had a kid and is still playing.”
Nolan, a former tennis coach at Malverne High School and currently a chemistry teacher there, regularly watches U.S. Open matches on television every year and has attended some in person.
On Kids’ Day, “you can get so close to the athletes,” he said. “You don’t get that with other sports.”
“It’s cool to see the best players practice, and it’s free,” said Ryan Pajer, 17, of Plainview, who got an autograph from Naomi Osaka of Japan, the top-ranked women’s player.
Emily Shei and son Rehan Sadiq, 10, of Forest Hills, Queens, were watching two of their favorite players — eighth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Gael Monfils of France, ranked 13th — play.
Rehan has been playing tennis for two years and has big plans.
“My goal is to just try to take tiny steps to the top 300 [players], the top 100, then the top 50 and the top 25,” he said. “I really want to make the top 10.”
“If tennis doesn’t work out,” he said, “I have a backup job — maybe an engineer or an accountant, or a sports doctor or an umpire.”
Elsewhere at the center, where children were learning how to play the game or polish their skills, Nolan’s wife, Jamie Nolan, 38, was watching son Danny, 2, make his first attempt at hitting a tennis ball with a racket.
“He was looking like he was playing golf,” she said with a smile as Danny held the racket vertically, inches away from the ground.
At another instruction court, Rasheedah Harris, 40, of the Bronx, watched daughter Afiya, 9.
Harris said tennis is a good sport for Afiya because “it helps with calculation and reflex skills, and with concentration, and it’s good cardiovascular exercise. My hope is that she picks up the skill and develops a passion for it.”