The red carpet was out by the President’s Gate for a star-powered event - fifteen Grammy Awards and three Emmys, respectively, for the guests of honor. Three Golden Globes for the celebrity auctioneer. Two New York City mayors were in the house, all for one vital tennis cause.
USTA Serves Inc., the national charitable foundation of the USTA, celebrated the start of the 2011 US Open with its 11th-annual Opening Gala, honoring the legendary Tony Bennett and ABC Good Morning America broadcaster Robin Roberts. Celebrating his 85th birthday, lifelong tennis fan Bennett was treated to a lavish array of surprises, including a 200-pound bottle of champagne, a painting and special cupcakes designed for him by Bare Naked Bakery, which will be sold at their Long Island, N.Y. site with sales proceeds benefitting USTA Serves.
The 200-invitee sold-out soiree was held in the President's Suite as former US Open champions Venus Williams and Roger Federer headlined an evening of tennis inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Mayors Michael Bloomberg and David Dinkins, along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York were on hand to provide some political pizzazz to the evening's festivities.
"The reason why people have been coming for 11 years is because they believe in the work of USTA Serves," said Deborah Slaner Larkin, Executive Director of USTA Serves. "People get very excited - and very emotional - to be a part of our history and to be a part of the US Open."
Alec Baldwin, who served as a Green Initiative ambassador at the 2010 Open, manned the podium an auctioned off some special prizes, including tennis travel packages to next year's French Open, Wimbledon and 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Through 2011, USTA Serves has provided hard-earned dollars - over $3 million in college scholarships, $10 million in program funding - and over 18 million hours of mentoring, tutoring and nutritional guidance to more than 170,000 American children. The financial and hands-on support aids at-risk youth and people with disabilities through community programs designed to improve health, build character, teach life skills and motivate students to strive for excellence.
"Each year, I want people to come away with a better understanding of how powerful a combination tennis and education can be," said Larkin. "I think people think: 'Oh, that's very nice' and it helps people get healthy - but we're finding that the kids who go through our programs are graduating from high school at a much higher rate than they do if they're not in the program.
"They raise their reading grade levels, they raise their GPAs, in addition to being more fit. They stay in school and they're not visiting the principal's office, either. It’s a happier life for the kids we're involved with as they're learning valuable life skills they wouldn't get otherwise - and I think everyone who supports us gives back not only to the sport that they love, but to the United States as a country."
Other donated items for the auction included a special US Open watch from the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Roger Federer and Andre Agassi pictures with pieces of actual match-used net and court pieces provided by Ace Authentic, a luncheon with Sen. Gillibrand in the Senate dining room, a meet-and-greet with Roberts on the set of Good Morning America and a meet-and-greet for four with Baldwin on the set of 30 Rock. All auction proceeds will go towards the USTA Serves mission to grow and develop tennis in disadvantaged areas.