Ashley Marshall  |  April 20, 2017

WESLEY CHAPEL, FLA. – More than 100 youngsters from the Tampa region had the opportunity to meet their idols and play with the pros during a kids' community day at the Saddlebrook Resort on Wednesday.


Ahead of their match this weekend against the Czech Republic, U.S. Fed Cup players CoCo Vandeweghe, Lauren Davis, Shelby Rogers and Bethanie Mattek-Sands joined captain Kathy Rinaldi on the green clay courts for fun and games with the children. 


Among those playing at the community day was 14-year-old Fernanda Cobo, who moved from Puebla, Mexico, when she was 11 years old and who started playing tennis at Saddlebrook as a way to make new friends and improve her English.


"She loves it. She loves tennis," Fernanda's mother Mayte said. "This is her third year at Saddlebrook, where she trains and attends school. ADVERTISEMENT It's very exciting. It has turned out to be a great experience and she is doing something that she loves."

The players rallied with the youngsters on full-sized courts, taught them new games with red- and orange-dot balls on the smaller 36- and 60-foot courts, posed for photographs and signed autographs. They also answers fans' questions during an on-court Q&A, fielding queries about why they enjoy playing Fed Cup, how much time they spend practicing and whether they prefer singles or doubles.


Saddlebrook Prep student Sandra Swiderski has been playing tennis for nine years, since she was 6 years old. She enjoyed taking part in the drills and said it was fun to see so many other young children on the courts.


"It's like tennis is getting bigger in the community and more people are joining to play, Sandra said. "I'm really excited, I was born in America and my mom was born in Slovakia, so if we win or they win, either way, I'm happy. It's all good."


Supporting the children on the courts were a number of volunteers, including Gail and Larry Gradel from Crystal Beach, Fla., who have tickets for both days of Fed Cup play this weekend and wanted to donate their time to support the event.


"It's so incredible," said Gail, who participates in USTA League, plays recreationally five times a week and volunteers with other USTA initiatives whenever she has the chance. "I wish I had this in my life when I was young. I started playing when I was 18 and I should have started as a kid. What a difference it would have made in my life. This is an incredible opportunity and I hope they realize what opportunities they have as young players today." 


The event was held by the USTA as part of the build up to the Fed Cup semifinal against the Czechs, which takes place April 22-23. Staff members from the Saddlebrook tennis academy were on hand to help out on the courts, including academy coach Sean McQuillan.


"It's absolutely awesome seeing our older academy kids giving back and hitting with the younger kids," McQuillan said. They're going to get the bug, they're going to want to play tennis. How could you not? You're playing on a 36-foot court in front of a stadium that holds 3,500. The energy out here is fantastic and this is amazing for Tampa."


Added Mattek-Sands, who bought matching red, white and blue head bands and wigs for the team: "It's amazing. We have the whole community coming out to support us, so it's the least we can do by having a kids' day. Seeing all the young upcoming talent, it was amazing here today in Saddlebrook."



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