Ariana Grande performs at 2013 Arthur Ashe Kids' Day.
© Philip Hall/USTA
There was fun for everyone at 2013 Arthur Ashe Kids' Day.
© Philip Hall/USTA
By Dana Czapnik
Brothers Benjamin and Jacob Price smiled wide for the camera, their arms around each other, leaning against the side of Court 9 while their mom snapped a photo. Behind them, American pro tennis player Austin Krajicek practiced his serve.
It was a perfect photo for the young tennis fans, who just moved with their parents from Orange Beach, Ala., to Harlem, N.Y., and attended Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day as one of their first activities as new New Yorkers.
"We did everything," Jacob, 6, said when asked what activities he participated in throughout the festival around the grounds, bringing his arms out wide. They opted not to get their faces painted, however, because, in 8-year-old Benjamin’s words, "I just want to be here for the tennis."
Jacob and Benjamin are just two of the young tennis fans that took over the grounds at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Saturday for the US Open’s annual pre-event celebration Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day.
Throughout the grounds, kids young and old alike participated in fun 10 and Under Tennis lessons and games with top pros including Mary Joe Fernandez, John McEnroe and up-and-coming American Jack Sock, and enjoyed plenty of entertainment. Jugglers and tennis players on stilts, face painting and xBox tennis, bands and performers. Anywhere the tykes turned, there were fun activities and plenty of smiles.
This was Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day veteran Isabella Godsick’s third time attending the event. The 11-year-old, who hails from of Cleveland, keeps coming back because, "it’s just fun and everyone’s happy," she said. Though she was most looking forward to seeing Serena Williams in the stadium show, "and I’m really excited to see Ariana Grande."
Godsick joined the rest of the sold-out stadium crowd and poured into Arthur Ashe Stadium to watch Grande, Austin Mahone, Coco Jones, Lawson and Swedish DJ duo Cazzette perform some of their biggest hits. Interspersed around the performances, pro players such as Williams, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and No. 1 wheelchair tennis champion David Wagner took to the court, played with young fans and tested their tennis skills with fun on-court contests.
Fans were treated to a special surprise when Grande brought on stage Nathan Sykes from The Wanted - last year’s Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day headlining band - to perform their duet "Almost is Never Enough."
But the most exciting and moving part of the day was when First Lady Michelle Obama took the stage to address the young crowd and discuss the importance of staying active and leading a healthy lifestyle.
She began her speech by asking the crowd, "Is everybody here ready to move?" The crowd responded with a resounding yes.
On stage on her right, the First Lady was flanked by Sock, Donald Young, Sloane Stephens, Denis Kudla, Ryan Harrison, Christina McHale and Madison Keys, the youngest and brightest American tennis stars playing in this year’s US Open. On her left stood a beaming Serena and Missy Franklin, the 18-year-old swimmer and four-time Gold Medalist in the 2012 Olympic Games, who was helping to MC the event.
"No one waved a magic wand over these [players] and turned them into champions," the First Lady said. "Sport teaches you that if you keep on practicing, you’ll keep getting better. And that applies to the classroom too. If you want to be good at anything, you have to work at it. The harder you work, the smarter you will get."
These sentiments echo the message of the First Lady’s leads Let’s Move! campaign, a comprehensive initiative dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams. She asked the audience full of children and parents to look to the pro athletes standing behind her for inspiration.
"When I was your age, I didn’t have tennis roles models," the First Lady told the packed crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium. "I didn’t live in a community where there were tennis courts. You guys are going to be way ahead of me."
The First Lady told the crowd about plans for the USTA to donate 5,000 more kid-sized tennis courts around the country and commit to bringing 300,000 more children to the sport of tennis.
"I love the game of tennis," she said to the crowd’s delight. "It’s a great way to stay healthy and stay fit. And it’s a lifelong sport. It’s a great game to get your heart racing and pumping, no matter how old you are."
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who had one of the largest roles of the day, playing matches with young tennis players, spoke of the importance of staying active and why tennis festivals like Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day are important.
"I love these kind of days, kids' days, that we have as a tradition here in US Open," he said. "[The] First Lady came today. It shows how important it is really for the United States, but for the whole world of tennis and sport. Sport sends a great message out there to the world. You're fit, you're healthy, you're leading a healthy lifestyle. That's why tennis is such a fantastic sport and everybody loves it."
His words and the First Lady’s words echoed the teachings of Arthur Ashe, who left a legacy of imparting health and education and the importance of making sports like tennis accessible for all, which is what Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day is all about.
And Kids’ Day isn’t just for kids. Watching the stadium show and dancing in her wheelchair was 74-year-old Betty J. Tinort of Brooklyn, N.Y., who was attending the event with her daughter and grandchildren and was arguably having the best time of anyone in the stadium.
"It’s so good to be around all these young people," she exclaimed during Fifth Harmony’s performance. "There’s just so much energy in here."