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The 8th Annual Arthur Ashe Kids' Day Presented by Aetna
by Greg Laub
Saturday, August 23, 2003

Arthur Ashe Kids' Day 2003, which was set up in honor of Arthur Ashe to benefit several youth-oriented charities and USA Tennis National Junior Tennis League, was another tremendous success for the program. But more importantly, it was another smash hit with the kids.

The annual event, which is presented by Aetna, serves as the official kick-off event for the US Open, which starts on Monday and will continue for two weeks.

As always, admission onto the grounds was free, so when the gates opened at nine o'clock sharp, thousands of kids came pouring into the sun-soaked USTA National Tennis Center ready for action.

After just a few steps, the arriving crowd was welcomed by a true festival atmosphere, complete with jugglers on stilts and unicycles, air-filled tennis exhibits, and various musical acts. Throughout the grounds, kids were able to participate in various interactive games, such as trying to hit a tennis ball into Scooby Doo’s mouth at the Scooby Snack Attack booth and volleying on a court that appeared to be straight out of Looney Tunes, both sponsored by the Cartoon Network.

Meanwhile, on the far side of the grounds, hundreds of people were crowding around the Aetna Outer Stage, as performing artists Off The Curb, Remedy and Chris Trousdale provided an entertaining musical backdrop for the entire site.

On the courts where the best tennis players in the world will be competing just 48 hours later, there was tennis fun and games galore. Fifteen different outer courts were decorated with a different activity or clinic for kids of all ages to enjoy, such as the American Express Skills Challenge on Court 10, the IBM Speedzone, which was clocking the speed of everyone’s serve, on Court 14, and George Foreman’s Drill the Grill challenge on Court 13. Older kids were able to hit with pros on practice courts, while the little ones got an introduction to the game on Courts 16, 17 and 18.

“I hit one serve 65 miles per hour,” exclaimed 13-year-old Jonathan, standing outside the IBM Speedzone. “But the one I got in was only 58.”

Between the many exhibitions, there was also face painting, hair beading, giveaways and plenty of photo opportunities. Some fans where even able to watch pros like Todd Martin and Sjeng Schalken practice.

“I was hoping to see Andre Agassi,” said Justine, age 15. “I think he’s going to win it all this year.”

The main event was the stadium show, held inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Tickets were needed for this show, which began at 11 a.m. with Olympic Gold Medalist Summer Sanders and MTV VJ Quddus welcoming the crowd.

It was not long before the first musical act, rock sensation Smash Mouth, took the stage to perform their smash hit, All-Star, to the screaming crowd. They were followed by R&B superstar Monica with her single So Gone, and British pop idol Daniel Bedingfield, who sang If You're Not The One. Smash Mouth returned for the closing act, which included their popular rendition of The Monkees’ I’m a Believer and their recent single Walkin' on the Sun.

Between all the fantastic music, some of tennis' top players helped out the causes. The first exhibition was Survivor Tennis, played by Maria Sharapova, Mardy Fish, Shenay Perry and Robby Ginepri. Each player was "voted off" by the audience until Sharapova was the last one standing.

In a contest that raised money for various charities, Anna Kournikova, Andre Agassi, Chanda Rubin and Andy Roddick participated in the American Express Skills Challenge, in which each player tried to hit targets on the other side of the net in front of the jovial crowd. All the players won money for their favorite causes, though Agassi turned out to be the biggest winner.

The final stadium event was a head-to-head exhibition match between the legend Agassi and the up-and-coming superstar Roddick, with Kournikova acting as the chair umpire. Ironically, those two men very well could be playing each other again for the men’s singles championship two weeks from Sunday. But today it was all for fun, with both players more interested in notching verbal zingers than winners. Still, in the end, Agassi held off a late charge by Roddick and won the playful match by a 10-8 score.

Following the stadium show, the World TeamTennis final presented by ADT Security Services, were played out on court 11 at 2 p.m., as the Sacramento Capitals tried to win their fifth straight title against the Delaware Smash.

Meanwhile, other fans were able to cap off the day by walking through the grounds for another couple of hours to watch the ongoing US Open player practices, get autographs and take more snapshots with the stars.

All in all, the eighth Arthur Ashe Kids' Day was once again a day Arthur Ashe would be proud to call his own.


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