The Fed Cup by BNP Paribas is a special competition. It is one of the most prestigious annual team events in women’s sport and for the first time since 2000 a Final is being played in America, as the home team takes on defending champions Italy.
As part of the promotion for the tie at the San Diego Sports Arena, the American team took time from their practice session to hold a Kids Day clinic at a nearby tennis club.
On a stunningly beautiful and warm afternoon, there was a fabulous turn out that attracted about 450 children with an average age of 10.
Some kids were wielding tennis rackets bigger than themselves, while others were wearing event t-shirts that were amusingly oversized. They got to meet, talk to and hit with the ladies Mary Joe Fernandez will be captaining over the weekend.
“To be able to do something like this and to be able to give back to the kids is really great and a lot of fun to be able to do,” Fernandez said. “These kids were great. They don’t have to grow up to be tennis pros but to be able to hit the ball and be able to play the game is fantastic for them.”
Fernandez, along with Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, doubles specialist Liezel Huber and the team’s newest recruit CoCo Vandeweghe, got involved by hitting balls with the kids then answered questions.
Vandeweghe, 18, who is from the area, was asked what her favourite part was to being on the USA Fed Cup team. “This is a whole new experience for me and it’s an exciting one so just being around the team and the training and all that is fun,” she responded.
Oudin explained to the kids, who were all listening intently, that while the pro tennis tour is fantastic she still misses her family, but she wouldn’t trade what she does as “it’s worth it and I love it.”
Mattek-Sands said she started her tennis when she was about the age of some of the children they were hitting with, but two things in particular helped plant the seed in her mind on what she wanted to do.
“My favourite player was Mary Joe and when I was about nine she showed me her gold medal from the Olympic Games and also around that time I got the chance to hit with Monica Seles who gave me an autograph, all those were important memories,” Mattek-Sands said.
The Kids Day clinic might just have left the same sort of impression on at least one youngster and who knows, some time in the future one of those 450 children will realise a dream of being in a Fed Cup or Davis Cup team.
As the afternoon drew to a close, both Huber and Fernandez reminded the kids to work hard on and off the court but at the same time to remember to have fun. It’s a lesson not just for tennis but one for life, too.