Nino Severino: So special to help our youngsters meet their heroes

Tennis legend Serena Williams with Amie Hunt on the purple carpet at the Wimbledon Players Party. Pi

Tennis legend Serena Williams with Amie Hunt on the purple carpet at the Wimbledon Players Party. Picture: NINO SEVERINO - Credit: Archant

In his latest column, Nino Severino shares a very special series of experiences that youngsters at the Elena Baltacha Foundation were treated to on the road to Wimbledon.

My column this week focuses on a trilogy of events that led into one of the greatest sporting events in the world.

This was a collaboration between the WTA and the Elena Baltacha Foundation, called the “Grass Court Trilogy”, taking 10 very lucky girls along a spectacular journey to the Wimbledon Championships.

The idea started during a meeting I attended at Wimbledon, around four months ago, with Anne Keothavong, British Fed Cup Tennis captain, and Kathy Martin a WTA representative from Australia.

We wanted to explore the possibility of creating a totally unique event to reward some of the young female players supported by the Elena Baltacha Foundation.

And after much deliberation, we decided to offer a VIP experience to all three grass court tournaments leading into the Wimbledon Championships.

Amara Young, Tawana Senah and Amber Harding at Nottingham. Picture: NINO SEVERINO

Amara Young, Tawana Senah and Amber Harding at Nottingham. Picture: NINO SEVERINO - Credit: Archant

After much hard work to arrange it, the trilogy begun back on the June 17 in Nottingham, at the “Nature Valley Open” – a very special tournament for me and the trustees of the Elena Baltacha Foundation, as the winner is awarded the Elena Baltacha Trophy.

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This trip for the girls, Amara Young, Tawana Senah and Amber Harding included a meet and greet with ex British No.1 tennis player Heather Watson, while current number one Jo Konta was also in the lounge and we watched her in the final later that day.

Our second trip was to Birmingham, at the Nature Valley Classic three days later, this time for Natasha Mashonganyika, Bo Woor and Elena Fairweather.

Once the girls entered the lounge, they sat down to eat, and they were all in for a very big treat. The table next to them was empty, and to their amazement a group of three players came to sit down.

Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova, both Grand Slam champions, and one of the world’s best Dominika Cibulkova, were all sitting just a few feet away – it goes without saying that there was a major autograph session that followed!

Amber Harding and Macy Hendin-Walker with Nino Severino and the legendary Martina Navratilova at Wim

Amber Harding and Macy Hendin-Walker with Nino Severino and the legendary Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon. Picture: PAVEL KRICKA - Credit: Archant

The last in the trilogy of events was the biggest of the three, Eastbourne, and the Nature Valley International.

It started with Anya Taylor and Jessica Terry meeting Great Britain Davis Cup Coach, Leon Smith, before we were all then escorted into the players’ lounge, where the girls met the second-best player in the world, and the current reigning Australian Open champion, Caroline Wozniacki. Caroline was absolutely amazing, even though she was about to go onto centre court, she took out time to chat to the girls, sign autographs and take pictures with them.

Incredibly, they were then offered the honour of waiting in the tunnel with Caroline and her opponent Camila Giorgi, and walking onto the centre court with them.

This was simply incredible for the girls, holding the players hands, exiting the tunnel, while the fans in the arena clapped and cheered for the players.

The last phase of this event was going to the pre-Wimbledon Players Party and then a visit to the Wimbledon Championships itself. Attending the Wimbledon Players Party is one of the biggest honours the foundation can bestow upon a player, and this year it was given to Amie Hunt, who has performed at a very high level over the last year.

After being picked up by an official WTA limo, Amie and her mum Helen ended up on the Purple Carpet, where they joined some of the biggest names in sport and walked in the footsteps of the biggest tennis stars on earth, in front of the world’s paparazzi.

Amie found this all a bit overwhelming – but help was at hand. None other than Serena Williams came over, put her arms around her, said a few comforting words and spent a very long time settling Aime down.

To complete the whole trilogy event, Amber Harding and Macy Hendin-Walker were picked to attend the greatest tennis tournament in the world as guests of Anne Keothavong.

The girls received full accreditation to the Grand Slam, this gave them full access to the players lounge, where they could relax around players such as Serena, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Amber and Macy were then introduced to some of the biggest stars in tennis, past and present, including Martina Navratilova and the player who went on to become the 2018 Wimbledon champion, Angelique Kerber.

Watching both the girls enjoying this incredible experience, filled me with an awful lot of pride, and it took me back to the very first school visit that Elena and I made.

In that group of pupils was a little 7-year-old girl called Macy Hendin-Walker, Elena picked her out personally to be supported by the foundation.

To see her now representing Elena’s legacy as a 15-year-old girl, was incredible.

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