'King Richard' stars, USTA Foundation surprise XS Tennis in Chicago
The stars of "King Richard," a film that chronicles the rise of Venus and Serena Williams under the tutelage of their father Richard, came together on Wednesday to give the next generation of players an experience they'd never forget.
Actors Will Smith, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton surprised student-athletes at XS Tennis, a USTA Foundation National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter that brings tennis to under-resourced youth in Chicago's South Side, with a pop-up meet and greet. Participants were treated to a fully-catered lunch, branded T-shirts and music from an on-site DJ, while Smith, Sidney and Singleton visited with the students during their daily practice, toured the 12-court indoor facility and participated in an on-court clinic. The trio also shared stories of their time on set and what they learned about tennis by shooting the film—including the importance of communities like XS that grow the sport at the grassroots level.
XS Tennis began in 2005 by Kamau Murray, best known for coaching American Sloane Stephens to the 2017 US Open title, and is now known as the XS Tennis and Education Foundation. The non-profit provides nearly 3,000 of Chicago's urban youth from ages 7-18 with low-cost tennis and education programming each year as one of more than 260 NJTL chapters across the country. One of those student-athletes, 16-year-old Nia Cooper, also took to the stage at Wednesday's event and shared with all in attendance the story of how she and her family relocated to Chicago for the opportunity to train at XS Tennis.
"It was similar to the experience that we learned about with Venus and Serena, trying to play tennis with public courts and limited resources," Smith said. "That's a tough way to make your dream come true. We heard about this place and it was just important to come back and show support."
With the support of the USTA Foundation, Warner Bros. and a pair of private donors, the evening concluded with the awarding of six year-long, all-inclusive scholarships to six XS Tennis athletes by Smith, Murray and Dan Faber, Executive Director, USTA Foundation.
Story continues below photo gallery. Photo credit: Barry Brecheisen
In addition to the event in Chicago, the USTA Foundation sponsored advanced screenings of the film on Wednesday evening for NJTL student-athletes and their families in 27 markets across the country.
"It [was] just electric and a vibrant environment. How could it not be when we're celebrating two of the most incredible athletes to play the sport... that kids can aspire to through hard work, passion and dedication? That's what we celebrated this evening," Faber said.
"Not everyone is going to be a Venus and Serena, but tonight, when I looked out at everybody, we're going to see lawyers, doctors, educators and nurses, and that's just as important. That's what the sport can do. There are a lot of lessons for them to learn, clearly, on the court through problem solving, discipline, hard work and sportsmanship. All of those things can apply off the court and guide [them] to be more focused and disciplined towards something to become productive in life. Those are the types of things that the USTA Foundation are always trying to do with kids through tennis and education.
"Tennis is our hook. Obviously, we want kids to learn how to play and be active and fit, but at the same time, we'd like them to take that sport and apply it to their daily lives where they can excel in school and do whatever else it is they aspire to."
“King Richard” is slated for U.S. release on Nov. 19, both in theaters and on HBO Max via the Ad-Free plan. Starring Smith in the title role and Sidney and Singleton as Venus and Serena Williams, respectively, the film chronicles the journey of Richard Williams and Oracene Price (played by Aunjanue Ellis), as they guide a young Venus and Serena on the path to changing the sport of tennis and the world forever. It will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from its theatrical release.