The American Slam had a very patriotic feel on Labor Day.
The USTA hosted military leaders from all branches, as well as the National Guard Reserves and Veterans Affairs, at the 2011 US Open for a proclamation ceremony in the President’s Suite within Arthur Ashe Stadium. Over 50 veterans had the opportunity to take in a great day of tennis. For some, it was a welcome day away from a VA medical center and a distraction from painful rehabilitation.
Around the time American Serena Williams took to the court for her round-of-16 battle with Ana Ivanovic, US Army 82nd Airbonre Division Specialists Christopher Borghi and Joe Yantz, Staff Sergeants Rudy Nunez and Edward S. Mills, Sergeant Juan Ocampo, 1st Infantry Division Specialist Zach Schick and Private First Class Cherell Ueki, along with Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Shawn Horsely and Staff Sergeant Marlon Smith, got the biggest cheers of the day.
The soldiers were honored on the Arthur Ashe Stadium JumboTron as part of the Wounded Warriors programs coming from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Hospital and the West Point Warrior Transition Unit.
“It was a very honorable, emotional day for these veterans, and I personally was thrilled that we could do this for the second-straight year,” said Robin Jones of the USTA Military Outreach program whose son, Sam, deploys in October.
Additional Ashe tickets were offered by the USTA as a small token of thanks to service members and were filled by the New York Army National Guard, Blue Star Families, Naval Weapons Station Earle and the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System.
“A very small percentage of these servicemen and women had tennis as a part of their lives before, but we’re trying to impress upon them, through efforts like Adopt-A-Unit, that tennis is the only sport that they can learn halfway around he world and then take it back home with them,” said Jones.
Adopt-A-Unit is designed to guide tennis organizations and players to "adopt" a military unit of approximately 75 to 100 soldiers serving abroad by sending care packages of necessities. To each adopted unit, the USTA also sends portable tennis equipment with instructions and educational information on tennis. The effort allows the tennis community to show support and introduce soldiers to a recreational means for reintegrating with family, friends and community upon their return from conflict.
The packages have reached soldiers in the heart of darkness – pop-up nets, racquets and balls have entertained platoons in war zones like the Arghandab River Valley of Kandahar.
During the night match between top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki and Svetlana Kuznetsova, it was not uncommon to see service members with their families shake hands with fellow tennis fans in neighboring seats. Officer Brian Hopkins, of Naval Weapons Station Earle, even took time to relive a great Open moment from the past.
“My wife and I were in the crowd two years ago, men’s final, when Juan Martin del Potro ended the Roger Federer streak – the atmosphere was great,” said Hopkins. “I’m glad I had the chance to get back here.”