Mary Joe Fernandez and Venus Williams with kids from the USTA New England section.
© Jared Gruenwald
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
WORCESTER, Mass. – Their instructor bent her knees into a mini squat and held her racquet in front of her with both hands, showing a group of children the ready position to hit a tennis ball.
But this was not just an ordinary tennis lesson for the kids, as their instructor was seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams and the court was SmashZone Mobile, as the U.S. Fed Cup team participated in a 10 and Under Tennis clinic for over 600 children in Worcester, Mass., where they play Belarus in a World Group II tie, Feb. 4-5.
Williams, U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez, Christina McHale, Sloane Stephens and Liezel Huber made an appearance at SmashZone, the US Open premiere fan experience, playing on the 10 and Under Tennis courts with the lucky kids, who had a chance to rally with the pros and hear their words of wisdom.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick stopped by, as well, hitting a few balls on the 10 and Under Tennis court with Williams and Fernandez, and Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty spoke a few words to the children.
The kids rotated from one 10 and Under Tennis station to another, with fun activities from bouncing the foam balls on their smaller racquets to bouncing the balls to partners and balancing racquets on the ground, and had the chance to rotate in with the Fed Cup team.
10 and Under Tennis scales the game of tennis down to the size of the child, with smaller racquets, courts and foam balls, to make tennis easier to learn and more fun for children so they will start to play and keep playing the game. As of Jan. 1, 2012, the rules of tennis changed to require all sanctioned 10-and-under tournaments be played using slower-moving, lower-bouncing balls and shorter, lighter racquets on smaller courts.
Williams and Fernandez showed a few kids how to hit a smooth stroke with follow-through, as they rallied with and fed balls to the kids, who were a captive audience around Williams, as she demonstrated a few strokes.
"All kids are different. Some are shy, some are precocious. They're all different," Williams said. "They love to hit the ball. I love to give them some pointers on how to improve their game but, more importantly, some pointers on attitude because that's so huge in tennis and in life."
On another court, Huber held another mini-clinic, telling one boy, "Closer to the bottom," because his hands were too high up on the handle of the racquet and, "Where’s your foot?" to another, who had not stepped into her swing.
McHale and Stephens each took groups, as well, with Stephens telling one young girl having a hard time making contact with the ball, "We’re going to keep trying until you get it." And, sure enough, the girl finally hit the ball over the net.
The team then entertained a few questions from the crowd, who asked everything from how much do they practice, to how did they balance school and training (for McHale) to what was Williams’ hardest match (she mentioned a three-hour doubles match she played once). The first question, though, went to Fernandez, which was, "What is ther favorite part of your job?’
Her answer was an easy one.
"I love tennis, I love being on a team, and I love coaching the team," Fernandez said. "I pretty much love every aspect of my job and everything I do."