The excited expressions of the children visiting the All England Club on Saturday said it all: nothing inspires the next generation quite like a close encounter with the best of the current one.
On a glorious day in London, many such role models were setting the finest possible example to the young fans on site for Family Day. Whether it was watching two-time champion Rafael Nadal as he practised with countryman Tommy Robredo, 2008 Girls’ Singles champion Eugenie Bouchard hitting with recent world No.1 Victoria Azarenka or the dozens of other top players preparing for what might become the most important occasion in their tennis career, motivation for the children to pick up their own racket was everywhere.
For some, merely being on site and absorbing the atmosphere was enough. With proud mums and dads in tow – naturally with camera phones at the ready – the children visited the Museum, had a chance to hit at the special “Play Tennis” site, saw where many special matches (such as the record-breaking marathon between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in 2010) had been played and noted the champions on various honour rolls around the courts. Perhaps most interesting to these young fans were the junior champions listed just around the corner from the famous Fred Perry statue, where 1998 Boys’ Singles Champion Roger Federer, is a notable inclusion.
For some of those children, the special pre-Championships visit was assisted by the Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative (WJTI), which has enabled more than 150,000 young players to experience their first taste of the game since it was established in 2001. Under the guidance of AELTC Head Pro Dan Bloxham, WJTI coaches visit schools in nearby Merton and Wandsworth, with 2,500 young players receiving scholarships to develop their skills and enjoy the game in sessions at the All England Club.
Easily identifiable today by their obvious enthusiasm, the children are regular visitors to the world’s most famous tennis venue. It’s a special experience at any time, but with The Championships just two days away, today’s visit was truly extraordinary.
For six-year-old Jenna, it was seeing defending men’s champion Andy Murray, her favourite player, that made the day so memorable. Joel Sellers, who is seven years old, also relished the chance to witness Murray first hand, but with Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova also nearby, naming one player as a favourite was near impossible. “I really like them all a lot,” he smiled.
Joel’s father, Lee, noted how today’s visit stood apart from the others that his son had experienced. “We come here all the time but not when there are so many famous players here,” he said. “The children got to see so many things that they don’t normally see. Their coach, Dan, was leading the players out. For the rest of the year he’s practising with [the children].
“To be a part of it all was really very special. It makes you proud to be a parent and it especially makes you proud to be a part of the Club.”
Like many parents and their family members today, Lee could have talked and talked about today’s experience but with the excitement of a special day out lingering, there was something far more urgent to address: son Joel just couldn’t wait to get home and practise.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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