By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
Fresh off a semifinals appearance at the Atlanta Open, Frances Tiafoe was among the first pros on-site at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center early Monday morning. The prompt arrival was for good reason.
Tiafoe hit the courts at 8 a.m., taking part in a WTEF Clinic sponsored by Citi and working with about 25 children from the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation.
“Working with kids in the DMV, it means so much more to me,” said Tiafoe, who grew up in Hyattsville, Md. “I love the city and to be able to give back to kids in the city who look up to me and who follow me, it’s an honor.”
The participants, ranging in age from 6-to-16, were selected from the WTEF’s Center for Excellence and Arthur Ashe Children’s Program.
Citi has a longstanding relationship with the WTEF, but this week’s clinic was a fresh initiative geared around Citi supporting WTEF as their organization provides a $10,000 grant to a deserving student for a HBCU school.
“Citi is so proud to support the WTEF," said Kristin Solheim, Citi’s Director of Government Federal Affairs.
"It’s tremendous that they’re able to take one child’s life and really change the trajectory and hopefully set the groundwork for a very successful career and life.”
Eligible students applied for the grant through an essay and interview process with the recipient to be revealed later this week. Accessibility and the opening of doors, Solheim says, is continuing the legacy left by tournament founder Arthur Ashe.
“That’s what this tournament embodies,” Solheim said, “and the support of WTEF is all about honoring Arthur Ashe’s vision of having this tournament in a public park, open to everyone, where it looks like America. You have icons like Frances and Serena and Venus [Williams] here inspiring these kids that they can do anything and we hope that’s what this grant does for this very well-deserving young student.”
WTEF President and CEO John Borden says the support from Citi facilitates their ability to fulfill their mission.
“Anything that we can do to provide greater access for our students is a good thing,” Borden said.
“Citi recognizes that and they support it. They believe in what we do and it’s amazing to have a partner that understands that and that is aligned with us in doing the work that we do… For us, it’s just one more thing that we can provide for our students, one more barrier that we can break down because one of the great challenges is financial.”
In addition to Tiafoe, Grand Slam champion Luke Jenson and Morgan State tennis coach Matthew Townes were also on-hand for the clinic. Townes is a WTEF alum and graduated from Morgan State in 2009.
“It’s all full circle,” he said of his participating in the clinic. “I remember being on these same courts with Andre Agassi when I was 10 years old and we were hitting and reading a book, and it inspires. And so now to have this all come back around, it’s phenomenal. To see that the [WTEF] program works, knowing that I’m a product of it, and remembering what it meant to have clinics and to meet pros like this, it always left you believing.”
Once the on-court session concluded, Tiafoe fielded questions from the WTEF students. Among them:
- His favorite players growing up? Agassi, Serena, Roger Federer
- What does it take to become a pro? Hours of hard work
- The hardest player he’s ever played? Nadal (“I hope he retires,” Tiafoe joked)
Tiafoe then shared his appreciation that Citi was supporting the WTEF as their organization provides a $10,000 grant to a deserving student for a HBCU school.
“It’s absolutely huge,” he said. “We need to give kids a chance for a great education. To be at a HBCU is great. I think HBCUs have so much great potential. Helping make that possible is just huge.”