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Serena and Venus Wow Crowds at SE Tennis Complex

Barrington M. Salmon | 5/4/2011, 1:18 p.m.
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>Sierra Lewter, 11, warms up before participating in the tennis clinic held at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center on April 28. / Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

"The children are learning [about maintaining positive] attitudes, leadership, unity, responsibility, being respectful, and doing the right thing."

Imani Haskell, 11, stood in line waiting to hit the ball with Serena.

"It's amazing having Venus and Serena here, although I saw them at a clinic in Manassas, Virginia. I've been playing tennis for four years, I enjoy the social aspect, coming out to play and enjoying people. For me, I just want to keep on playing whether it's on the circuit or on a Saturday morning, it doesn't matter," said Imani who attends Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Va.

The clinic was sponsored by the Washington Convention Center and Sports Authority.

Erik Moses, 40, the senior vice president and managing director of sports and entertainment for the convention center said "we're honored to be involved. What Mrs. Barry is doing is very impressive."

At the conclusion of remarks and a media opportunity, 50 'tennis scholars' raced from a nearby building onto the courts. The group stretched, chanted, raised their arms skyward and loosened up ahead of the workout, clapping and doing jumping jacks and lunges. This was followed by a full-throttle workout and training session with Washington Kastles Coach Murphy Jensen being the voice that pumped everyone up, talked a little 'smack' and explained to novices the finer points of the game.

"A tennis clinic like this is absolutely priceless," Jensen said at one point. "Our kids have the opportunity of a lifetime. We're talking about future scholar and tennis players."

Soon, the students were hitting neon yellow and orange balls from their coaches and at different points, Venus took over to lob balls on one court while next door, Serena was offering advice, encouraging students and showing her young charges the proper arm, foot and body movements. She frequently high-fived them as she counseled them.

Those students fortunate enough to trade shots with the tennis greats played hard and smart, intent on making a good impression even as they were guided by the sisters.

Onlookers were pasted against fences, some gawked, others held video cameras and proud parents snapped pictures while the buff stone-faced security detail and local law enforcement kept an eye on things. Michael C. Rogers, chairman of the Recreation Wish List Committee, was one of those watching intently by the fence.

"I am a big supporter of the center," said Rogers, a former D.C. city administrator.

"We exist to support education, as well as the tennis program. We're holding the clinic on the 10th anniversary as a pre-event to the gala [the evening of April 28] where we will have almost 600 people come across the Anacostia [River] to support a program that has touched the lives of children in this community."

Venus and Serena, 29, have been injured over the past year and Serena had a health scare recently when she was rushed to the hospital after a blood clot settled in a lung. At the beginning of the year, Venus pulled out of the Australian Open because of stomach pain and a sore hip.

"It was really scary," Serena said of her emergency. "I'm doing much better now. I'm feeling better."

"The one thing we learned from being away from the game is how much we love it," Venus said. "[Not playing] gives us opportunities to be out here, where normally we wouldn't be able to," she said.