U.S. tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams - both multi-Grand Slam title winners - have not played competitively recently because of various injuries and ailments. They have continued, though, to promote their sport, as they did this week in the nation’s capital.
This is not the first time Serena and Venus Williams have come to Washington to help support the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, which is marking its 10th anniversary this year.
The facility offers special recreational and educational programs for inner city children and teens - primarily African Americans - in Washington, D.C.
Before the gala fundraising dinner, the Williams sisters conducted a clinic for 50 of the center’s so-called tennis scholars. It was a chance for kids like 10-year old Colby Carr to get some tips from the best.
"When they’re playing tennis they make sure to eat healthy and exercise a lot," said Carr.
Twelve-year-old Kayla Williams [no relation] said she immediately noticed a difference in her game after her personal instruction from Venus.
"She told me that when you hit the ball make sure your shoulder is facing your opponent and when you swing, put more power to it," she said.
The Southeast Tennis and Learning Center has served more than 4,000 young people over the past 10 years. Nearly 30 have been awarded tennis and academic scholarships to colleges around the country.
The Williams sisters have helped to raise funds for the Center and have devoted time to instruct young players there. Serena said it has been rewarding to watch the Center’s growth.
"I’m glad to be here," she said. "Ten years of this is great. It’s a great tennis program, but mostly the education on it is unbelievable."
The Center’s chief executive, Cora Masters Barry, said having the great support of Serena and Venus Williams has been wonderful.
"It shows me that they really get it and really are committed to these kids and understand," said Barry. "It shows me their heart and it means so much to these kids."
Serena Williams was hospitalized two months ago with a blood clot on her lungs. She said the incident gave her a different perspective on life, and events like this.
"I mean it was definitely really, really scary and unfortunate, but you know I’m doing much better now and appreciating every moment that I have," said Serena.
Serena said her training is slow and steady. Venus is overcoming a hip injury. She said they are not sure yet whether they will play at the French Open on May 23.
"It’s a great event and we definitely want to be there, so we just take it week by week, evaluating it," said Venus. "The good part is we’re both getting better."
Certainly their many fans, like the young children they worked with at this special clinic, hope the Williams sisters can soon return to competitive tennis.