By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com
NEW YORK -- Past US Open champions such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl have each left their own unique, indelible marks on the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
In 2011, they're doing it again through USTA Serves - and this time, you have a chance to join them.
As the National Charitable Foundation of the United States Tennis Association, USTA Serves will honor the four principals taking part in the BNP Paribas Showdown during Tennis Night in America - Sampras, Agassi, McEnroe and Lendl - by establishing their own "neighborhoods" and the Avenue of Aces, located between the East Gate of the NTC and Arthur Ashe Stadium. The legends were invited to take part in the program and through their generous donations, each of the four will have a specially-placed paver stone put into the Avenue prior to the 2011 US Open.
These four pavers will each stand in the center of their own surrounding ring of pavers, each year purchased by tennis fans, families, community organizations, charity foundations and other various businesses. The new neighborhoods allow for people to choose their spot next to their favorite player - permanent proof that they are united for the same quest to support at-risk children and people with disabilities.
"We’ve generated renewed excitement around the Avenue of Aces program through the introduction of the 'neighborhood' concept, starting with Billie Jean King," said Deborah Slaner Larkin, Executive Director of USTA Serves. "Billie’s neighborhood has been a big success, so we’ve expanded the initiative to eventually include all US Open adult singles champions."
Through both Pathway (ranging from $1,000 to $5,000) and Founder's Court (ranging from $15,000 to $25,000) pavers, tax-deductable donations to the Avenue each year help provide hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and scholarships. In 2010, fundraising by USTA Serves generated $1.2 million overall, with 70 individual scholarships for high school seniors and 59 grants to tennis and education programs which helped an estimated 35,000 children across the country in low-income areas.
King's established neighborhood is nearly full, but there's plenty of room to be had.
"People tell me that every year when they walk by their pavers – they’re so proud," said Larkin. "It’s a perfect way for people to be a part of the exciting US Open experience and support the next generation who, without the support of USTA Serves, might not have the opportunity to play the sport we love."
Prior to Tennis Night, the aforementioned legends who hit the court at Madison Square Garden let the world know that their desire to help out kids through tennis is constant.
"I'm honored to be included in the US Open Champions' neighborhood on the Avenue of Aces," said Agassi, in a prepared statement. "Because like USTA Serves, the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education is dedicated to transforming the lives of under-served youth by providing academic opportunities.
"So, welcome to the neighborhood and join our efforts to provide tennis and education opportunities so more kids can be champions in their own lives."