The Tennis Showdown

Tennis pros and kid players meet at Madison Square Garden for fitness and fun

March 06, 2013

Kids chosen for the USTA's 10 and Under demo pose for a quick photo before hitting the court.

Have you ever wondered how famous tennis champions like Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro became such great athletes? They started off as kids.

On Monday, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA) held the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The event featured big matches for both men’s and women’s tennis.

Before the games, local kids were invited on the court to showcase their tennis skills. The demonstration was part of the USTA’s 10 and Under Tennis program designed to encourage young people to get active and start playing tennis.

“These events are designed so that kids can experience tennis in a relaxed, fun atmosphere that will encourage them to get involved–and stay involved–in the sport, ” USTA representative Kurt Kamperman said in a press release.

Kids Steal the Show

Nickelodeon’s Figure it Out host Jeff Sutphen talks with TFK Kid Contributor Paloma Kluger about the night's events.

Nickelodeon’s Figure it Out host Jeff Sutphen talks with TFK Kid Contributor Paloma Kluger about the night's events.

The USTA says the goal of 10 and Under Tennis is to help children learn to play while having fun in the process. The program is now offered in more than 6,500 tennis facilities across the country. Scoring is simplified for the kid match-ups, and players use shorter and lighter racquets, slower-bouncing balls and smaller courts than adult competitors.

Kids at the MSG demo showed how they shined with the adjusted equipment and courts. Nickelodeon’s Figure it Out host Jeff Sutphen and The Biggest Loser fitness trainer Bob Harper came out to play with the kids and to announce a comedic play-by-play of the matches. Sutphen shouted to one kid, “Look at that serve, I could write a whole book about it!” When asked who he was rooting for in the night’s professional women’s match, he said  “I’m fairly certain Serena could run faster than me, catch me and pick me up over her head, so I’m rooting for her because I don’t want to be on her bad side.”

Shakima Hotaki and Evan Lee, both 9, were two of the evening’s kid athletes. The two of them have each been playing tennis for at least three years. Both Shakima and Evan told TFK they were confident they could beat their celebrity announcers in a real game. Although Shakima said she was nervous to play in front of the large crowd, she was excited about the opportunity. “It feels really great to play in a famous place where famous people played,” she said.

The Pros Play

Juan del Potro celebrates with Rebecca Suarez, 9, after winning an impromptu doubles match at MSG.

Juan del Potro celebrates with Rebecca Suarez, 9, after winning an impromptu doubles match at MSG.

After the demo, it was time for the main event. Serena Williams, the world’s No. 1 woman player and 2012 U.S. Open champion, earned a 6-4, 6-3 win over two-time Australian Open champion, Victoria Azarenka. For the men’s match, former U.S. Open Champion Juan Martin del Potro defeated former No. 1 and 11-time Grand Slam singles champion Rafael Nadal in a match that ended 7-6 (4), 6-4.

A humorous turn of events took place during the men’s match when Nadal went into the stands and invited actor Ben Stiller out of his seat for a game of doubles . Del Potro, in need of a partner, plucked Rebecca Suarez, 9, from the stands and gave her a small racquet for the sudden game. The girl returned every ball Nadal and Stiller sent over the net.

Sutphen and Harper told TFK they were impressed with the kids who took part in the exhibition. But they were sure to remind young people that they don’t have to be great at a sport to enjoy it. “It’s not about being good or bad, it’s about getting out and having a good time,” Sutphen said.  “I think that’s the true test of any sport.”

Kid players Shakima Hotaki and Evan Lee told TFK they want to continue playing tennis for the rest of their lives. Maybe they’ll come back to Madison Square Garden, next time as pros!

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