By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
Rafael Nadal’s return to New York City and the US Open final rematch between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka were just two of the exciting aspects of this year’s Tennis Night in America festivities.
This year, as in years past, Tennis Night also kicked off a month-long celebration of tennis for kids and parents across the country. In fact, more than 100,000 kids have participated in events throughout March since the inception of Tennis Night in America five years ago, and there will be more than 1,000 events held this March alone – meaning there is an excellent chance there is an event near you.
The focus this year is on Tennis Festivals – fun, participatory tennis events that introduce kids and their parents to the thrills, excitement and countless benefits of tennis. With Tennis Festivals, kids of all ages and experience levels, including beginners, can experience the fun of the game through a variety of activities.
Tennis Festivals also provide the perfect opportunity for parents to see how 10 and Under Tennis sizes the game right for children, with smaller courts, lighter racquets and lower-bouncing balls that make tennis more fun to play and easier to learn.
"Tennis Festivals are a great opportunity to share with parents the benefits of involving their children in the sport," said Bob Harper, fitness expert, star of "The Biggest Loser" and the host of Tennis Night’s youth tennis demonstration, alongside emcee Jeff Sutphen of Nickelodeon. "Tennis is one of those rare sports that you can play your entire life. The earlier you start, the longer you will get to play."
Tennis Night in America annually brings together both professional and grass-roots tennis – with youth tennis at the forefront. In 2011, Tennis Night made history, with four all-time greats – Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl – playing on courts with blended lines. Blended lines, which outline a 60-foot court for 10 and Under Tennis play on the traditional 78-foot court, were back at Tennis Night in 2012 and again this year, which also launched the inaugural World Tennis Day as a celebration of tennis – youth tennis in particular – in upwards of 40 countries around the world.
Williams said she hopes that by bringing four of the world’s best tennis players – Azarenka, Williams, Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro – to one of the world’s most famous stages – Madison Square Garden – for the BNP Paribas Showdown broadcast on ESPN, it will get more kids into the game.
"I think World Tennis Day is a great thing," Williams said. "Especially in the United States, we are really trying to build our foundation and get more kids involved in tennis and get more children active in general. This event, put on by BNP Paribas, is great. I think it raises the awareness of tennis, it brings a great event to one of the biggest sports centers in the world and you get a lot of viewers behind it. I think it will be very inspiring for so many young people."
Azarenka, the two-time defending Australian Open champion, started playing tennis at age 7 in her native Belarus. She said she has been pleased to see the growth of kids’ tennis programs around the world, noting that 10 and Under Tennis in particular has been extremely beneficial.
"I think the children’s programs have grown everywhere we’ve been, especially in the States, with the small courts and the different balls," she said. "I think it’s an excellent idea and it makes it more fun for the kids and develops their game much easier at such a young age."
During the month-long series of Tennis Festivals, kids of all ages and abilities – whether their goal is to be the next Nadal or Williams, to pick up a racquet for the first time, to just have a good time or to get involved in weekly matches or team play – will all find games and activities for them. And getting more kids playing tennis was something that all the players involved with Tennis Night in America could rally behind.
"I think having matches at Madison Square Garden, the World’s Most Famous Arena, is a big promotion for our sport," Nadal said. "That’s a great way to promote tennis with the kids, which is great for the future of our sport."
To find a Tennis Festival near you, go to YouthTennis.com
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