American NASA astronaut Andrew Feustel played the first tennis match in space Tuesday, taking the sport to its greatest heights yet with an exhibition aboard the International Space Station.
The gravity-defying match powered by Net Generation, the official youth tennis of the USTA, was relayed from miles above Earth and projected onto the iconic Unisphere in Corona Park outside Arthur Ashe Stadium and the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
The idea was to show how tennis can push boundaries and inspire the next generation of tennis players to achieve greatness and reach for the stars.
After moving valuable equipment and constructing a makeshift court, the astronauts rallied over a yellow net with small racquets and foam balls, modifying the rules to allow them to play balls off the floor and roof as well as under the net, which was floating in the middle of their pod.
"Tonight is about missions. It's about the mission of the USTA to promote and develop the growth of tenniss. We like to say we're about growing tennis and making it look like America. But tonight, we're about another kind of mission: a space misison.The first tennis mission to space," said USTA CEO and Executive Director Gordon Smith.
Earlier Tuesday, Feustel, part of Expedition 56 more than 254 miles above Earth, received last-minute tips from Juan Martin del Potro in a live 20-minute video call inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Feustel explained the challenges of playing in space and promised del Potro he would try to take a photo of del Potro's hometown of Tandil, Argentina. The former US Open champion shared the importance of staying fit and healthy and called the US Open his favorite tournament.
Feustel and del Potro share several similarities in addition to their love of tennis and pushing their bodies to the limit. Del Potro is the No. 3 seed at the US Open and Feustel ranks third in the amount of time spent taking part in space walk. And del Potro won his US Open title in 2009, the same year Feustel took his first mission to space.
Feustel, along with compatriot and fellow NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold and crewmate Oleg Artemyev of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, joined members of the Expedition 55 crew at the International Space Station, where for eight months they will take part in approximately 250 research investigations and technology demonstrations not possible on Earth.
Feustel, a Lake Orion, Mich., native holds a doctorate in Geological Sciences and was first selected by NASA as an astronaut in 2000.
One small ace for man. One giant leap for tennis.