When 13-year-old Naisha Rathi learned she could try out to be a ball girl at the new professional women’s tennis tournament at the Cary Leeds Center in Crotona Park, she knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Rathi, a Queens native who will be a freshman this fall at the Beacon School in Manhattan and who plays tennis at the center year-round, saw it as a chance to get up close and personal with some real live pros.
“It’s awesome to see them here,” Rathi said of the players competing at the N.Y.J.T.L. Bronx Open, where main draw matches begin Sunday. “It’s supercool and exciting because we always dream about seeing them or being like them, and actually seeing them in real life and playing, it’s so much motivation.”
But it is unclear how long Rathi will be able to see the players up close. The Bronx Open is a transitional event, and it may not take place again next year.
When the Connecticut Open in New Haven was sold this year and moved to Zhengzhou, China, the WTA suddenly had a hole in its calendar the week before the United States Open.
New York Junior Tennis and Learning, a nonprofit tennis and education program for underserved youth that was co-founded by Arthur Ashe, and the WTA stepped up to create the Bronx Open, a new $250,000 International-level tournament. It is the only professional women’s tour event the week before the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 26.
The WTA is paying for prize money and other expenses, said George Guimaraes, the president and chief executive of the N.Y.J.T.L., which enables the organization to hold an event that is free to the public with suggested donations for those over 18. It is rare for the WTA to provide funding for a tournament, but it has done so in the past, the WTA spokeswoman Amy Binder said.