NEW YORK- For the past several years, the Wilmington-based One Love Tennis program has given youngsters in the area a chance to learn and develop a passion for the game of tennis under the direction of local legend Lenny Simpson. This past week, two local girls from the One Love Tennis returned from the trip of a lifetime to New York City and Flushing Meadows-Corona Park for the US Open.
Simpson, a Wilmington native and founder/executive director of One Love Tennis, organized this ultimate tennis excursion and hopes to do this every year for students in his program that show promise and dedication. This year David and Carolyn McLemore, of the McLemore Family Trust, made the trip for the kids possible.
The two young winners, Nina Noble, 12, and Adrianna Williamson, 11, and Adrianna’s mother, flew to New York along with Simpson and his wife Joann.
After a day of sightseeing through Time Square and Manhattan, the group began their VIP US Open weekend at Arthur Ashe Kids Day as guests in Arthur and Jeannie Ashe’s box in Louie Armstrong Stadium. Later, along with young Arthur Ashe Essay winners from around the country, the group attended a special screening of Althea the Film at the Queens Theater (where Lenny did a Q and A along with filmmaker, Rex Miller).
“This whole experience for the girls surpassed even my high expectations.” Simpson said. “Within the span of one hour, we were less than two racket lengths away from Venus and Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, five of the top ranked tennis players in the world as they practiced.”
The girls were particularly excited to meet those with a connection to Simpson, including John McEnroe (who Lenny brought to Wilmington for the 2011 Azalea Festival) and Donald Young, who in 2008, played James Blake and broke another long standing US Open record held by Simpson and his friend and mentor Arthur Ashe of being the only two African-American male competitors to face each other in US Open play.
“This makes me want to go back and work hard to be a better tennis player.” said Adrianna Williamson.
Another major highlight was meeting doubles champions and fan favorites, the Bryan Brothers, who Simpson brought to Wilmington in 2013 for a One Love Tennis Fundraising exhibition.
Simpson, a former tennis pro and the first African-American to play World Team Tennis, made history at Forest Hills in 1964 when, at the age of 15, he set a US Open record as the youngest male (black or white) to win a first round match at the national championships. He held that record for over 20 years.
“Never in my lifetime, did I think I would be standing next to Serena Williams, much less with my daughter by my side,” said Vanessa Green, Adrianna’s mother.