Serena Williams might have confirmed her participation but many major names seem reticent to play at the US Open, says Russell Fuller.
Serena Williams might have confirmed her participation but many major names seem reticent to play at the US Open, says Russell Fuller.
American discusses growth of his foundation in Jacksonville
For more than 20 years, MaliVai Washington has impacted the lives of children and young adults in Jacksonville, Florida. Through the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation (MWYF), the 1996 Wimbledon runner-up and former World No. 11 has improved opportunities for disadvantaged youths in Durkeeville, one of the most impoverished areas in the city.
The foundation is based in zip code 32209, which has a history of drug-related crime and suffered the highest number of murders in the city in 2019. The area also owns the city’s highest rates of juvenile crime, teen pregnancies and STDs. Despite the numerous challenges children face in the area, the 2009 Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award winner has made a positive impact on the lives of his students since 1997. No student has become a teen parent while active in the foundation’s program and, over the past four years, 100 per cent of children have graduated high school on time.
“This was the zip code that had the most issues. This is the zip code we wanted to be in,” said Washington. “I remember talking to the former sheriff of Jacksonville when we were having an event and he said, ‘Mal, four blocks from where we are standing right now used to be one of the biggest crack dealing corners in Jacksonville.’ I said, ‘That’s why we’re here.’
“We want to be in this location because we feel like this is where we can have the greatest impact on young people. Too many young people are falling through the cracks and if we can create some programming, with education and a tennis foundation exposing them to different things, they are going to be so much better off than having not been in the program.”
MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation is based in Jacksonville, Florida.” />
After suffering a knee injury against Gustavo Kuerten in February 1997, an injury which he describes as ‘the beginning of the end of my playing career’, Washington spent the rest of the year creating programs, fundraising and meeting with Jacksonville city government officials to turn his vision into a reality.
The foundation began with Tennis and Tutoring (TnT), aimed at elementary school children from five years of age, but soon added a Leadership program to support students through middle school and high school. The foundation has since expanded to support students during and after college, as they seek employment in their chosen fields. Washington’s students have become real estate agents, local chefs and paediatricians. In fact, former student Marc Atkinson is the current Director of Tennis at the foundation.
“From TnT and leadership to working with students in college and after college, our students, in their mid-20s, are coming back to us and using us as a resource which is what I absolutely love,” said Washington. “We have our tentacles out in the community and we have had a lot of people who have supported us over the years who are still willing to help out in some way.”
In the next two months, the foundation will open a new Teen Center — after raising $5m in funding — creating the opportunity to nearly double the number of students served in the foundation’s elementary program and triple student capacity in its middle school and high school programs.
Washington’s ultimate goal is not related to the profile or size of his foundation. The four-time ATP Tour titlist is simply focused on growing his reach in the local community and having an impact in that area across multiple generations.
“I am all about longevity. We want to be a staple in the community,” said Washington. “We have been here for 24 years in Jacksonville and I’d like to think that long after I’m gone and long after our executive director and board members are gone and some of our students are my age now, I’d like to think that the foundation is still striving. That is my goal.
“A generation, two generations from now… I want people to look back and say something happened in 2019 or 2020 in our family that changed the direction our family was going in. I want them to be able to point back to the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation and say, ‘Something happened at that program that changed the trajectory of a few lives in our family.’ If they can look back and say that, we have accomplished what we set out to do.”
You set up the Mal Washington Youth Foundation in the year following your run to the 1996 Wimbledon final. Can you reflect on those achievements and did your Wimbledon success give you a greater platform to reach children through your foundation?
We started the foundation, on paper, in 1994 but it wasn’t until 1997 that we actually started growing programs and creating programs in Jacksonville, Florida. One of the things I have often said is the Wimbledon final in 1996 was really the pinnacle of my tennis career and, right after Wimbledon, participating in the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 was very special.
Unfortunately, seven months later, not knowing it at the time, injuring my knee in Brazil playing Davis Cup was the beginning of the end of my career. That was the downhill slide into two surgeries and rehabilitation on my knee. Ironically… having had that first knee surgery, what it allowed me to do was dedicate a significant amount of time to growing the foundation.
I was literally just in Jacksonville for the last 10 months of 1997 and, during those 10 months, that is when the foundation really grew and started to growing into what it is today. That is when we started creating programs. That is when we had our first fundraiser in September 1997.
The knee surgery, for my tennis career, sucked. But, for the foundation, it allowed me to sit in a lot of meetings and meet a lot of people, a lot of corporate folks and a lot of people in Jacksonville city government to tell them what we were trying to do. Having somewhat of a higher profile, having just [reached the final] at Wimbledon, it was a bit easier to get in to talk to people.
MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation is based in Jacksonville, Florida.” />
In 2009, you were awarded the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award. Can you discuss that achievement and what impact Arthur had on your life?
Getting the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award was very special and to be, in some way, compared to Arthur is very special. But, I often say it is kind of misleading because there were so many people who… could have been right up there with me. My name is on the organisation, but we have my executive director, our leadership team, we have a board of directors, we have full-time staff, we have part-time staff, we have junior staff. There are so many people involved in the foundation. I would like to think the entire organisation looks at it as our award, not just an award that Mal got.
I had the opportunity to see Arthur play live once. I could barely see him, my dad was holding me up and we were watching him on an outside court at the US Open back in the late 70s… He didn’t want to be remembered as a tennis player. That was just a part of his life. I certainly don’t want to be remembered just as a tennis player. That was just a part of my life. I think there is so much more to do and accomplish and so many people to impact beyond how I hit a tennis ball.
Can you tell us about a success story from the foundation?
One of our great success stories is a young man [named Marc Atkinson], who grew up in the foundation from the sixth grade. He’ll tell you, he failed the sixth grade right before he came into our program. He grew to love the sport of tennis, graduated from high school, went to Florida A&M University and walked onto the tennis team there. [He] struggled and struggled and, four years later, he graduated which was awesome. Then he came to work for us full-time and has been working for us full-time [as our Director of Tennis] for a number of years. Now the young man is not so young anymore… he’s married with three kids.
Your Youth Centre opened in 2008. How were you operating before that moment and what did the opening of the facility mean for your Foundation moving forward?
Before that period, we were operating in a city-owned facility directly across the street. When we started our after school program in the late 90s, when we started Tennis and Tutoring, it was for 25 kids. We grew to 50 kids the next year, then 75 kids and what we realised very quickly was, if nothing else was working, if we weren’t doing anything else, we were getting the kids to go to school. You couldn’t come to the after school TnT program unless you were in school that day.
We looked at that and said, ‘This kid missed 22 days of school last year and this year, since he has been in the program, he missed six days.’ There were stories like that over and over and over again, so we realised if nothing else was working, that’s working. How do we continue to grow and expand the programs?
We went around a few different sites throughout the country, looking at other programs and asking the question, ‘How do we grow effectively and efficiently?’ For us, that was going on a campaign and building a youth centre to allow us to more than double the number of kids we were serving and just make deeper inroads into the community. That’s the whole goal.
With our Teen Center that is under construction now, I basically asked the same question. How do we grow and how do we do it effectively? Can we grow? Can we raise the funds and, if we can, do we want to do that? My message was, ‘I don’t want to say no to those questions just because it is going to be tough. If we can go through some growing pains but, in the end, serve way more kids and do it effectively, let’s do that.’ Everyone got on board and that is what we chose to do.
Today’s ATP Challenger Tour stars discuss how they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing an exclusive glimpse into life at home.
Thiago Seyboth Wild talks about the current situation in Brazil, how he’s getting back into a routine, what he misses most about the tour and introduces us to his new dog Malu.
The last time we saw Seyboth Wild, the Brazilian was lifting a trophy. But it wasn’t just any trophy. Just two weeks shy of his 20th birthday, Seyboth Wild celebrated his maiden moment on the ATP Tour in Santiago in late February, taking home his first piece of silverware.
For the young Brazilian, it was a crowning achievement and one that he’ll never forget. The unseeded wild card charged through a murderer’s row of clay-court stars to capture his first tour-level crown. He toppled Argentines Facundo Bagnis and Juan Ignacio Londero to open his campaign, before earning his first Top 20 win over Cristian Garin in the quarter-finals. A 6-1, 6-3 rout over Renzo Olivo would book his spot in the final, where he capped a fairytale week with a tight three-set victory over Casper Ruud.
Seyboth Wild entered the tournament with just one match win in 2020, but he found his form in a hurry. His victory in Santiago was a surprise to many. After all, the 20-year-old had never previously reached an ATP Tour quarter-final and was standing outside the Top 200 when the month began. But, as Seyboth Wild proved, hard work goes a long way.
“It’s the hard work and the sacrifices I’ve made paying off. Giving your best on the court, working as hard as you can and leaving it all out there. It may not come in a month, it may not come in two months, but I can assure you that you’ll be happy for what you’ve achieved.”
Seyboth Wild’s impressive run in Santiago can be attributed to a breakthrough on the ATP Challenger Tour at the end of the 2019 season. A 10-1 finish to his campaign was punctuated with a maiden Challenger crown in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He sprinted to the title on the clay of Guayaquil, dropping just one set in six matches.
Now, up to a career-high No. 114 in the FedEx ATP Rankings – and second in the ATP Race To Milan – Seyboth Wild is soaring towards the Top 100. But first, the #NextGenATP star is taking on a new challenge in his native Brazil. With the country emerging as a COVID-19 hotspot, he admits his priorities and daily routine have changed.
“As a tennis player, your life is a routine. You plan your weeks in advance, but you have stuff to do and many goals. Now, we don’t have that anymore. We have to get used to life now. We have to go slowly and take as much care as we can.
“Now, I wake up at 7am and take the dog for a walk. At 8:30, I have to be at the academy to stretch and warm up for practice at 9. I hit until 11 and then do fitness until 1pm. That’s going to change soon, because I’ll be training in the morning and afternoon. I think getting back to normal life is what we’re all hoping for. It’s going to take a while, but let’s make it as normal as we can.”
Seyboth Wild has been in quarantine in Rio de Janiero with his girlfriend and his pets, which include a newly adopted dog named Malu. As he explains, he’s cherishing the opportunity to spend time with loved ones and enjoy these rare moments at home with Malu.
“For two and a half months, I went back to my hometown, which was really nice. I’ve never had the opportunity to spend that much time with my family. It was really nice to be with them. I have a guinea pig and another two dogs and it’s really nice to spend time with them too. When I’m traveling on the tour, you don’t get the time to do that.”
Serena Williams intends to play at the behind-closed-doors US Open in August, where she will bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam.
The ATP and WTA in April announced the launch of a new weekly show called Tennis United, to feature interviews with ATP and WTA players, as well as other influential figures from throughout the game, on a variety of topics. Ten episodes later, the show has enjoyed plenty of memorable moments.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, three-time Grand Slam finalist Dominic Thiem, 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev, as well as celebrities that include NHL legend Wayne Gretzky and former NBA star Steve Nash, have all joined the programme.
Watch Djokovic’s Appearance On Tennis United:
Tennis United, which has been co-hosted by Grand Slam champions Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vasek Pospisil, has featured everything from an entertaining group chat between Canadian stars to a thought-provoking discussion about social change in sports between James Blake and Martina Navratilova. Former World No. 1 Andy Murray and football star Marcus Rashford surprised a healthcare hero, while American John Isner surprised a very special fan.
Click here to look back at all 10 episodes of Tennis United.
The ATP, in collaboration with the WTA, ITF, USTA and the FFT, has issued a revised provisional calendar that sets a pathway for the resumption of the Tour for the first time since the suspension of professional tennis in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new-look ATP Tour calendar intends to resume on Friday 14 August with the Citi Open, the ATP 500 event in Washington, D.C., followed by the Western & Southern Open, the Cincinnati ATP Masters 1000 event, to be hosted at Flushing Meadows, in the lead up to the US Open (31 August – 13 September).
Following New York, the Mutua Madrid Open and the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, ATP Masters 1000 events on clay in Madrid and Rome, respectively, will take place in September ahead of Roland Garros in Paris (27 September – 11 October), which will also feature a singles qualifying draw the week prior.
The calendar is subject to change and continued assessments will be made relating to health & safety, international travel policies, and governmental approval of sporting events. All events will be held under strict guidelines related to health & safety, social distancing, reduced or no fans on-site. The ATP continues to explore all options for additional ATP 500 and 250 events to be added to the schedule, should circumstances allow.
A further update on the intended schedule beyond Roland Garros, including a possible Asia swing ahead of the European indoor swing culminating with the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals in London, is expected in mid-July.
“Our objective has been to reschedule as many tournaments as possible and salvage as much of the season as we can,” said Andrea Gaudenzi, ATP Chairman. “It has been a truly collaborative effort and we hope to add more events to the calendar as the situation evolves. I would like to recognise our tournaments’ efforts to operate during these challenging times, as well as our players who will be competing under different conditions. At every turn, ensuring that the resumption of the Tour takes place in a safe environment will be paramount.”
The ATP Challenger Tour will also resume from the week of 17 August, in parallel with the ITF World Tennis Tour.
The revised calendar includes the Generali Open, an ATP 250 event in Kitzbühel, which coincides with the second week of the US Open. Top 10 singles players will not be eligible to compete in Kitzbühel unless they have played, and already lost, at the US Open.
FEDEX ATP RANKINGS
The FedEx ATP Rankings have been frozen since 16 March 2020. The ATP continues to monitor all global travel restrictions and general access to playing opportunities ahead of the resumption of the Tour.
As the situation continues to evolve on a weekly basis, a determination will be made in the coming weeks with respect to the most appropriate and fair way for the rankings to resume in parallel with the resumption of the Tour.
Are you feeling lucky, tennis fans? This is your chance to win a signed racquet from Grigor Dimitrov, Stan Wawrinka or Alexander Zverev.
The ATP Coaches Committee is raising funds to support the members of the ATP Coach Programme in most need whose ability to work has been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For $10, you can purchase a prize draw ticket for your chance to win Dimitrov, Wawrinka or Zverev’s racquet. One thousand tickets are available for each player’s draw.
“Our sport owes a lot to coaches and I would not have become the player I did without their help over the years,” Wawrinka said. “I want to thank everyone involved for their support.”
The initial three-week bidding window will end on 29 June 2020, with future rounds and experiences to be announced. There are also silent auctions supporting the same cause, with the world’s leading coaches offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences to winning bidders.
Coaches offering private lessons as part of VIP packages include Ivan Lendl (2021 US Open), Boris Becker (2021 Fever-Tree Championships) and Goran Ivanisevic. (2021 Nitto ATP Finals). You can also enter prize draws to win tickets to the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals.
Part of the proceeds will be donated to a global COVID-19 relief fund. For more information on the prize draws, available experiences and merchandise, or to donate to the initiative, please visit the Givergy website.
Felix Auger-Aliassime is the youngest player in the Top 50 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. Although the #NextGenATP star is only 19, he is already serving as a role model for future generations.
The teen announced in February that he would donate $5 for every point he wins this season to EduChange, partnering with CARE to support the protection and education of children in Togo, from where his father hails. Auger-Aliassime revealed Tuesday in a video supporting International Day of the African Child that he is also counting the points he earned in 2019 towards the initiative.
“The points from last year are counting for this year’s support. I’m just above 3,000 points today,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I can’t wait for tournaments to resume in order to increase the total points so that my family and I can support the project even more.”
During this period without competition, Félix Auger-Aliassime @felixtennis had a chat with Joyce Sepenoo in charge of Care Togo to talk about EduChange program and #FAAPointsForChange project. pic.twitter.com/Hj8x9d5moN
— We Are Tennis (@WeAreTennis) June 16, 2020
The World No. 20 believes that doing his part to support children today can make a massive difference in the future.
“Sport and school help to create values, help in education and contributes to create tomorrow’s leaders,” Auger-Aliassime said. “These are examples for future generations. I think that [when] you see people around you go to school [and] play sports, it’s a real motivation. It’s positive. “
Auger-Aliassime knew growing up that if he put himself in a position to give back, he would not hesitate.
“I would like to give this opportunity to as many kids as I can so that they have a chance to go to school, to play sports,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It’s the basics for me, and I would like for this to be global. I wanted Togo to be the first place where I can inject support and energy.”