By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
NEW YORK -- USTA Vice President Katrina Adams loves Madison Square Garden - and by the time Tennis Night in America comes to a close, she hopes that her special guests love it, too.
"Anytime you can have tennis here in the Garden, its amazing," said Adams. "I played here 20 years ago and the atmosphere, there's nothing like it."
Adams wasn't trading forehands with anyone on this night, but she had to be on her game all the same - in addition to hosting over a hundred kids involved with National Junior Tennis & Learning (NJTL) programs from all across the United States, she also served as emcee of the 10 and Under Tennis demonstration that preceded the evening's opening match between former US Open champions John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.
"The demonstration will be an opportunity to really show what QuickStart and 10 and Under Tennis is all about," said Adams, minutes before she made her way to the MSG floor to introduce the kids and call the action. "Its going to be the first time on national television that we're going live in front of the world with blended lines."
Six special kids took to the floor and demonstrated the type of youth tennis revolution that is overtaking the nation, in large part thanks to the efforts of the NJTL network. More than 600 non-profit youth development organizations are providing free or low cost tennis, education and life skills programming to more than 250,000 children each year.
Two major NJTL's represented from the surrounding New York Metropolitan area were the New York Junior Tennis League (NYJTL) out of Woodside, which the USTA recently recognized as its 2010 NJTL of the Year for outstanding tennis service, and 60 excited kids from the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program (HJTEP), an organization in which Adams serves as Executive Director.
Many of these kids were completing a dream tennis weekend - in addition to attending the BNP Paribas Showdown, they also had a chance on Saturday to head over to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for a Q&A session with Lendl as he prepared for Monday's event. The eight-time Grand Slam champion signed autographs and gave advice to kids participating in tennis to enrich their own lives.
Yet it’s the allure of the sports cathedral atop Pennsylvania Station, Adams believes, that will define the experience for both her and the kids.
"You can't help but feel excitement when you come into this buidling - I hope the kids sense that aura in the air," said Adams. "They've had the unique Billie Jean King Cup here for the past two years, with the women playing two matches in the same evening to determine a winner - and now, this special night with the men, these legendary players.
"That we can have the best of both worlds, with both genders afforded the opportunity of being represented on Tennis Night, sends a great message to everyone watching."
Located five miles north of Madison Square Garden, the Harlem Junior Tennis was founded in 1972 and has been in continuous operation for nearly 40 years. In that time, more than 1,000 HJTEP graduates - about 25-percent - have been awarded tennis scholarships to attend colleges and universities nationwide, including Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, Duke, Howard, Morehouse, Syracuse, Tulane, Temple, Rutgers, Georgetown and New York University.