The USTA Foundation’s 2016 World Tennis Day Celebration
by Edward Barsamian
It was a fun-filled night at the Essex House, where sports and philanthropy proved to be perfect doubles partners at the USTA Foundation’s cocktail kickoff for the BNP Paribas Showdown and celebration of World Tennis Day. The star-studded matches take place tonight and pit friends Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki against each other, while gent Gaël Monfils faces off against Stan Wawrinka.
Last night, though, everyone was smiling and beaming for the camera as performance artist David Garibaldi took to the stage to paint a mural-sized canvas featuring the four players. “Thank you for fixing my face,” joked Wawrinka of the oversize portrait before taking to the podium with his fellow players. Of course, the question on everyone’s lips was how can Williams and Wozniacki remain such great friends while also being such fierce competitors. “It’s really cool to have someone to share wins and losses,” explained Williams, sporting a crop top and fitted skirt, adding, “Caroline and I just connected.” That sentiment was shared by Wozniacki, who said, “When you play the best, it brings out the best in you. You don’t have anything to lose.” However, the blonde superstar has faced a few upsets against Williams and admitted, “It was a good match, but she won. I was pretty upset after, and she wrote a note for me that said, ‘I’m sorry, I love you.’ That’s friendship.”
The evening’s main goal was to raise awareness for the USTA Foundation’s work, which helps at-risk kids by providing them with a health-focused outlet in addition to providing grants and scholarships for higher education. First up? Even bigger expansion. “We raised over $22 million for approximately 225,000 children who are part of our programs,” explained USTA Foundation president Thomas Chen. “We want to increase that by another $5 million to $10 million and we’re confident in our ability to do that.” As for tonight’s match, expect Chen to be rooting for Monfils. “[He] is just a fun player to watch, and I love Stan’s backhand.” Joining Chen in that sentiment was Benjamin Doller of Sotheby’s, who serves as the foundation’s secretary. “We just want to keep raising funds to support the programs throughout the country,” said Doller, noting, “So many are going to college for the first time.” And the foundation is serving a huge amount with its sights set on even more. “We want to reach more and more kids out there,” explained Y. David Scharf, vice president of the USTA Foundation. “We’re looking to almost double our reach. We’ve set an incredible goal for ourselves, and we’re really trying to partner with the players who have their own foundations by helping kids at risk and putting tennis rackets in their hands.” And as for whom Doller and everyone else will be eyeing tonight at Madison Square Garden? “We have to root for the American!”