LARGO – For more than 75 children Thursday was a special day.
Professional tennis player Sloane Stephens visited and participated in a one-day event at the campus of Prince George’s Community College aimed at encouraging urban children to play tennis.
The Mid-Atlantic National Junior Tennis and Learning network (NJTL), which is part of the United States Tennis Association, sponsored the “Play Day.” Children ages five to 17 wore neon-colored shirts with the phrase “Team Sloane” and practiced basic tennis skills in a relaxed environment.
“The youngsters have a fun day and get a chance to meet and greet Sloane Stephens,” said Brenda Gilmore, executive director of Prince George’s Tennis and Education Foundation (PGTEF). It was the first time the NJTL hosted the event at the PGCC campus.
Halfway through the event, Stephens—the no. 22 ranked player in the world on the Women’s Tennis Association tour—walked onto the courts. Children and parents immediately swarmed the tennis player, asking for autographs and pictures.
“She’s the new and outstanding upcoming American player,” Gilmore said of Stephens. “To have someone like her, at her level, come to Prince George’s County is fantastic,” Gilmore said.
Stephens, 21, defeated Serena Williams in the 2013 Australian Open and was a quarterfinalist in the 2013 Wimbledon championships.
Stephens assisted in some tennis drills and later answered questions from the young tennis players.
During a volley drill, Madison Thony, 12 of Upper Marlboro, had a hard time hitting the ball directly towards Stephens. Instead, Madison only managed to hit labs deep into the backcourt. Stephens brought Madison to the net to give her advice. Thony, who started playing tennis in 2010, said Stephens’ advice helped her a lot.
During a question-and-answer session, Stephens talked about her practice schedule, dealing with pressure and her life outside of tennis.
The majority of the children eagerly raised their hands when Stephens asked if they wanted to play tennis professionally. Stephens encouraged them, but offered additional advice. It’s a long road to playing professionally, she said, and there is a lot of pressure.
“You should just enjoy yourself,” Stephens said. “Just enjoy your time as much as you can.”
The event took place on the new tennis courts at PGCC which were recently renovated because of a grant, according to Gilmore.
“These are newly renovated courts and it was done through a program called Fresh Courts, sponsored by American Express and United States Tennis Association,” Gilmore said. “So you’re looking at a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of new courts,” she said.
Stephens chose PGTEF to receive the Fresh Courts grant last year.
The newly resurfaced courts have blended lines, which mark boundaries for 10-year-old and younger tennis players, according to Jennifer Gregg, executive director of the United States Tennis Association of Maryland. The court also has two new 36-foot courts designed for youth players.