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Community kids feel the love from the pros

August 23, 2017 - Bob Bryan during the Returning the Love youth tennis clinic on Queens Day during the 2017 US Open. (USTA/Jennifer Pottheiser)

In the shadow of Arthur Ashe Stadium, more than 30 youngsters from neighboring community centers basked in their day in the sunshine on Wednesday, rallying and mingling with pros Richard Gasquet, Monica Puig and Bob Bryan at the "Returning the Love" clinic.

"It means a lot, I was once a kid," nine-time US Open champion (men's doubles and mixed) Bryan said after exchanging shots, high fives and smiles with some of the children from the Elmcor Youth & Adult Activities center on one of three youth tennis courts nestled in and around the fountains in front of the majestic stadium. "If I can come out here and inspire one or two kids to play tennis, it really means a lot."

The clinic, which also had children from The Child Center of NY and the Dominico-American Scoiety of Queens, was just one element of a day-long lineup of events featuring Queens-based performers, exhibitions and family activities across the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at the fourth annual "Queens Day" festivities.

The Queens Day initiative is a combined effort of the USTA and the players in "reaching out to" and "welcoming in" surrounding community organizations, both on and off the court.

"A lot of our kids don't get this type of exposure to interesting sports like tennis, and now, who knows, maybe the opportunity to play with pros inspires new aspirations," said Eugenie Bisulco, vice president of communications of the Child Center of NY, which serves up to 26,000 families annually. "We are very grateful to the USTA."

Executive Director of the Dominco-American Society of Queens Jose Tejada said, "This is a special treat for our kids. Most of the time they might be playing soccer here at the park and see the US Open from the outside. Now they get to see it from the inside."

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The idea of reaching out to a whole new community of possible future players is very rewarding for Bryan.

"This is an exciting time for tennis and it is all about growing the next generation. not just a champion but tennis is a lifetime sport," said Byran. "To get kids from this area excited about tennis is unbelievable. I am happy to be here, It is a great day."

Bubbly and exburent on the court with a big smile, Puig, the 2016 Olympic gold medal champion from Puerto Rico, was an instant winner with the kids

"They are the future of this world, so it is nice sharing this time with them and trying to be an inspiration and example for them," said Puig. "I love being with the kids, being that role model that they can look up to. These little kids I was one of them once.

"It is all about having fun. I am not trying to tell them anything specific, just trying to laugh with them and have fun with them. That's No. 1."

And if it would happen, that one of the children from Wednesday's event found that inspiration and love of the game passed down from one of the pros and with hard work and training went on to become a world-class player, then it would be even more special, according to Bryan.

"If you get one of these kids excited and they actually follow through and do the work and get a story like that, playing out here on Arthur Ashe in 10 years, that would be amazing for everyone," said Bryan.