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Doubles Stars Support Inner-City Tennis and Education

First Serve Foundation

Bopanna, Qureshi© Robert DavisRohan Bopenna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi supported First Serve Foundation.

One has to wonder what Mahesh Bhupathi was thinking when he served a slice out wide to Bob Bryan’s backhand at 30-30.  Bob ripped a return winner up the line and pumped his fist. The backhand winner was no surprise to any of the ATP’s doubles professionals watching, but brought a big applause from the crowd gathered at the Brickell Tennis Club and a “I told you so” smile from Bob’s father, Wayne Bryan.

Mahesh Bhupathi is down championship point and he goes for a first serve bomb out wide that flies deep by three feet. Now, the 11-time Grand Slam doubles champion and 2011 Australian Open doubles finalist is in big trouble and feeling much more than the brutal south Florida heat.

Bob Bryan runs up to the service line twirling his racquet in his left hand just begging for a chance to cross. Sound familiar? Hold on. Bhupathi gives the ball a few extra bounces and decides where he will serve and Hartmut Junghahn gets ready to receive by doing some deep knee bends and a couple of kangaroo jumps.

Who the heck is Hartmut Junghahn? Junghahn is an amateur player who is competing with 13 other high level ‘ams’ along with an elite field of ATP World Tour ranked doubles players in the First Serve Foundation Pro-Am ahead of the Sony Ericsson Open.

Junghahn returns the kick serve over the net and Bhupathi sticks a forehand volley deep to which  Junghahn replied with a lob over Christian Stenstrom (Bhupathi’s partner). While chasing down the lob, Mahesh Bhupathi must be surely missing Leander Paes now. Bhupathi and Stenstrom go on to save two match points and force a super-tiebreak to decide the championship.  

Make no mistake, this pro-am is no hit and giggle. While the ATP doubles stars are playing to support the charity, the amateurs look like they are playing for blood. This event features seven of the Top 10 ATP World Tour ranked doubles players, led by this year’s Australian Open champions, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, along with other players such as Nenad Zimonjic, Mahesh Bhupathi, Poles Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski, Oliver Marach, Jean-Julien Rojer, Eric Butorac, Andy Ram, Horia Tecau and the IndoPak Express of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.

The tournament is played on clay, and the first day each ‘pro’ played five pro-sets and a match tie-break at eight games all.

“Tough day,” commented Rojer. “I am here to win. And I had to cover a lot of court out there.”

While all the proceeds go to the First Serve Foundation, there is a nice little reward for the pros if they win their division: a free room at the Ritz Carlton during their entire stay at the US Open.

“We thought that a free room at the Ritz might give the pros a little extra incentive,” says tournament founder, Chris Jeffries.

“I think this event has the highest quality of amateurs of all the pro-ams I have ever played,” says Nenad Zimonjic. “Especially, the second day when you have the top seven amateurs and top seven pros. It is really tough because the level is good and the matches are very serious.”

First Serve Foundation Pro-AmThe event is in its sixth year and the purpose of the pro–am is to allow high caliber amateurs the opportunity to play doubles with the top professionals.

In the final of the World Class Draw, Aisam Qureshi and Walter Grossman were up a break on Mike Bryan and Mat Snelson before Bryan and Snelson broke back and ran out the last few games to win the title.

“I really wanted to beat Mike today,” admits Qureshi. “Anytime you get a chance to beat the number one player in the world, no matter who is his partner or the event, you want to give your best and win.”

“The doubles stars on the tour never cease to amaze me with their generosity to help the sport and deserving charities,” commented Wayne Bryan, who emceed the event. “And the First Serve Foundation is another fine example of their great play and big hearts.”

“The First Serve Foundation was created to use tennis as a way to help inner-city kids with life skills and academic success,” says First Serve founder and CEO, Trey Buchholz. “The real goal behind the whole process was to help kids who might be failing in school or who might not have the resources to level the playing field and succeed in life.”

First Serve Foundation has grown to 38 chapters nationwide, and was recently acquired by the USTA.

“First Serve is a model that works and the USTA has the resources to take First Serve to the next level of development and help more kids to help themselves,” says Buchholz. “Over the past six years, this event has generated over 1.5 million dollars that has provided resources for the kids of inner-cities.”

“It is invigorating and exciting and the pros made all of us amateurs feel like we were really a part of a team,” said Warren Grossman. “After this experience, I will definitely go watch the doubles matches at the Sony Ericsson.”

“This is such a good cause and we are very happy to see so many great doubles players supporting it,” says Bob Bryan.

“Though the tournament is fun and for charity,” admits Bhupathi, “it is a good warm-up for the Sony Ericsson and the intensity is always at a high level. I would like to thank Mr. Jeffries, Trey Buchholz and the Bryan family for making it happen.”

In the Grand Slam Draw Championship match super-tiebreak, Bob Bryan and Hartmut Junghahn win it in a thriller 10-8. Though he lost the final, Bhupathi managed to win the free suite room at the Ritz anyway.

“Because of the high quality of his play it was decided by the committee that Mahesh Bhupathi would get a suite anyway as a gesture of appreciation for his effort during the tournament," Jeffries said. 

Read more about the ATP’s charitable efforts

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