Chanda Rubin was 5 years old when she first picked up a tennis racket.
“When you start that young, you never know where you're going to end up,” says Rubin, now 36.
By age 7, she was competing in tournaments, she went pro at 15, and shortly after turning 20, she became the sixth best tennis player in the world when she reached the semi finals of the 1996 Australian Open.
With seven singles titles from the Women’s Tennis Association Tour and numerous other awards under her belt, Rubin has retired from the sport but still shares her love of the game with others.
She sits on the United States Tennis Association board, and on July 13, she laced up her sneakers, grabbed a racket and hit the newly renovated courts at Malverne High School with several hundred kids from all over Nassau County for USTA’s annual Long Island Kids Day program.
“It’s fun to see the diversity of kids all coming together to have a good time,” she told Patch while taking a break from serving balls to the children, who hailed from Malverne, Roosevelt, Freeport, Merrick, Hewlett and other local communities.
The ages and abilities of the children varied greatly. Some had never picked up a racket before while others have already competed in tournaments. One child even told her he already knew how to play tennis. “It was funny,” she said, “because I’m still learning some things at my age, so I can only imagine an 8-year-old.”
Rubin’s goal for the day was to help them, interact with then, give them “a different look and hopefully some inspiration.” Even if they don’t plan to play competitively, Rubin said, every child, every person can benefit from tennis.
“Tennis adds so much as a life sport. There are so many important lessons you can learn … even if it’s just ‘try’,” she said. “You're not going to get it on the first go-around, but try and believe eventually that you can do it.”
Rubin says this is one reason she loves the sport.
“No two days are the same,” she says. “You could feel awesome one day and the next day is the total opposite but you just have to pick yourself up and keep working.”
This passion for tennis is what the USTA hopes to instill in more people through its free annual Kids Day programs in Nassau and Suffolk, where kids spend hours participating in games, drills and other activities that teach them the fundamentals of tennis in a fun way. They enjoy free pizza and have chances to win prizes.
The USTA has also teamed up with local schools, taking over gym classes for a day to provide free tennis lessons.
“In the last four year, I’ve gone into 50 schools and taught thousands of kids tennis,” said Bill Mecca, Tennis Service Representative for USTA’s Eastern/Long Island region. “We're very happy to do it, because we just want to put rackets in kids hands.”
The USTA also runs an annual adults program, called “Love on Long Island” in both Nassau and Suffolk, where everyone who shows up gets free tennis lessons.
“There are courts like this all over Long Island that aren’t being used ... you don’t have to belong to a country club.,” Mecca says. “A decent racket doesn’t cost much.”
Mecca praised the physical and mental health benefits of the sport,and pointed out that studies have shown high school students who play tennis boast higher grades.
Plus, “It’s a really fun sport,” says Zachariah Maxine, 12, of Roosevelt, who’s been playing for three years.
Maxine came to the Kids Day event with a group from Roosevelt that included Delicia Williams, 12, who says she’s been playing tennis for as long as she can remember.
Williams said when her dad first introduced her to the sport she resisted. “I wasn’t so keen on tennis at first, but I kept playing and now I like it. It’s a great form of exercise and it’s fun.”
And unlike team sports, Rachel A., 9, of Hewlett, a regular Kids Day attendee who’s been playing since she was four, likes that in tennis, you win or lose on your own.
The Ogden Elementary School student enjoys playing against her sister and dad, as well as in competitions. For all those kids who haven’t picked up a racket yet, she says, “you should start!"