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O-Town, Lil’ Bow-Wow perform at Arthur Ashe Kids Day

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In the world of tennis, the Vinson sisters may not be as famous as the Williams sisters, but Lateaka, 16, and Starr, 11, still got to hit a few balls at the U.S. Open.

The Vinson sisters attended Saturday’s Arthur Ashe Kids Day, which has preceded the first official day of the Open for the past five years.

Lateaka and Starr play for the Gotham Tennis Emporium team, which practices at Liberty Park in Jamaica. They came to Kids’ Day to participate in the tennis clinics and watch the pros, including Venus and Serena Williams.

“I can’t wait to see what they do,” Lateaka said of the profession players, who hit balls with hundreds of young players Saturday morning.

“We’re really proud to be here,” she said of Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day, “It’s a really great experience.”

Many of her teammates, who range in age from 7 to 16, attended Kids’ Day for the second year in row, but for others, it was a new experience.

“It’s my first time, but I am pretty excited,” said Shanina Meeks, 11, about the tennis event.

Lateaka said their coach, Chris Mitchell, has been teaching the team about the history of tennis and Arthur Ashe’s contributions to the sport.

Ashe grew up playing tennis on public courts in Richmond, Va., and in 1968 became the first black player to win the U.S. Open. He died in 1993 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion.

The girls said they were looking forward to the mid-day stadium show, which featured exhibition matches with Andre Agassi, Martina Hingis, Serena, Williams, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt.

The stadium show also included musical performances by Lil’ Bow Wow, a hot young rapper, and O-Town, a new boy band created on the ABC show “Making the Band.”

Kids’ Day benefits the USA Tennis National Junior Tennis League, the Arthur Ashe Foundation and other children’s charities. The event has raised more than $2 million for charity in the past four years.

“It’s the best event in the best sport in the best borough,” said Eric Rubin, a volunteer at Kids’ Day, who grew up in Bayside. “It brings together all types of kids, of all genders, races and ethnic backgrounds.”

USA Tennis NJTL is a community-based youth team tennis program designed to introduce tennis to kids would otherwise not be exposed to the sport. It was founded by Ashe, Charlie Passarell and Sheridan Snyder in 1969 and its graduates include Serena and Venus Williams.

Rubin’s father, Ed, 68, son Noah, 5, and daughter Jessie, 10, participated in the Kids’ Day tennis clinics.

“It gets kids into tennis in a fun way, not forcing you,” Jessie said about the event. She got to hit balls with tennis stars Luke Jensen and Michael Chang.

Her little brother played against Todd Martin, who commented on the tike’s skills, according to his father.

Ed Rubin has been playing tennis for about 35 years and although he may not be a kid anymore, he still enjoyed Kids’ Day.

“Everybody is laughing and having a good time,” the elder Rubin said. “Tennis opens up many opportunities for kids to feel good about themselves.”

K.D. Wilson and Bill Briggs from the Jamaica-based group Youth and Tennis also see the benefits the sport has on the kids they work with.

The tennis academy brought 20 kids to participate in the clinics and about 150 to watch the stadium show.

“I am having so much fun here,” said Melanie Lopez, 12, who participates in Youth and Tennis. She and her friend Reissa Antwi, 9, particularly enjoyed a game called Powder Puff where the girls shot tennis balls at fictitious “bad guys.”

They were also excited about the stadium show, particularly because of pint-size rapper Lil’ Bow Wow.

“I think he’s cute,” Reissa said of the 14-year-old performer who sang “Where My Dogs At?” in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

O-Town, which has one Queens native, Erik-Michael Estrada, among its ranks, performed their new single “All or Nothing” as girls in the audience screamed and waved signs.

Paige Kaside, 9, and Alexandra Herman, 10, from Flushing came prepared with a double-sided sign supporting both Lil’ Bow Wow and O-Town.

Among the O-Town fans who were brought to hysterics during the stadium show were Marlene Ortiz and Christine Rodriguez from New Jersey who won tickets from pop music station Z100 to Kids’ Day and the chance to hang out with the band beforehand.

“This is the best day of my life,” Ortiz said.

The stadium show also featured a game of “Survivor Tennis,” which tennis legend and Queens resident John McEnroe officiated. The game allowed members of the audience to vote off players they did not like, finally leaving only Ashley Harkleroad on the court.

The day concluded with the 2001 Tyco World TeamTennis Final, featuring the top teams from the Eastern and Western conferences of the Tyco WTT Professional League.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

Updated 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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