It was shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday that a new Guinness World Record was set when the United States Tennis Association brought together 406 youngsters from various local youth organizations for the “largest tennis lesson” in history.
It took place inside the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows Park, kicking off the celebration of World Tennis Day and thousands of USTA Play Events throughout the month of March. They are intended to encourage families and children to give the sport a try.
The morning’s events began an hour earlier, as Whitney Kraft, director of tennis at the center, put the participants through a series of practice exercises.
From the underhanded back and forth one-handed toss to the roll-scoop-exchange racket with partner challenge, Kraft peppered his instructions with words of encouragement to the youngsters, some of whom had yet to reach their 5th birthday.
“It’s okay to make some mistakes,” he said. “Allow yourself to get worse before getting better.
“We’re looking for control and accuracy,” he added, also counseling, “It takes a great sport to make a sport great.”
In attendance was Judy Murray, mother of Scottish tennis superstar Andy Murray, who recalled how she encouraged her children to pick up the sport at very young ages.
Surveying the arena as it bristled with energy, she said, “It’s an amazing opportunity to bring so many children together in one place and let parents see how much fun they can have. Parents are crucial. It’s a sport you can play together as a family.”
Among those on hand were many area tennis devotees. Chris Tham, 12, of Flushing, said he has been playing for five years already. “My dad was really into it,” he said. He took part in Sunday’s event “just to have fun,” taking away some new ideas about flexibility and balance.
Thirteen-year-old Shelly Yaloz of Little Neck started playing tennis at the age of 8. She cited Rafael Nadal as her favorite player, saying, “I like his stroke and his spin and his competitive attitude.”
And Kai Yuminaga, 12, of Little Neck, is a true veteran, picking up a racket for the first time seven years ago. “My dad decided to have me try the tennis court,” Kai explained. “It’s fun. When you’re in tournaments, the pressure makes it fun. The more you’re challenged, the more you want to play.”
As the class came to an end, all thoughts turned to the day’s single most anticipated announcement: Had a new world record been established?
The Guinness official adjudicator, Nicole Pando, let it be known that a record had, indeed, been set in the new category. A minimum of 250 participants was required to set the bar.
A roar erupted from the crowd as the announcement was made. Moments later, one of the participants, Lee Cantor, 12, of Bayside, summed it all up when he said, “It feels good.”