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Smash like a girl

Images by Noel b. Pabalate

The Wimbledon whites, powerful ballet movements, the high ponytail/cheerleader-esque aesthetic, 22-year-old Canadian tennis darling Eugenie Bouchard in a cute Nike vest and shorts number, so close to what any fashion-conscious 22-year-old would wear to the mall; reigning queen of tennis and two-time Vogue cover girl Serena Williams flawless in an all-white dress with a high neckline and layered pleated skirt in Wimbledon. When young women look at images of tennis players on court today, they see girls who are dressed like them, scream and swagger like them, relentlessly work to prove their worth just like them.

This puts tennis in a position of power in inspiring girls to embrace and never downplay their talents. A poster of Serena Williams in mid–epic scream should be required on every young girl’s bedroom wall so they can be reminded every day how beautiful it is to be a badass. Same goes for Post-It notes of Billie Jean King’s “Champions keep playing until they get it right” quote on every flat surface to remind them, athlete or no, that success doesn’t happen overnight. And sometimes comes in different forms, too. Not just in gold trophies and medals, or making cameos in Beyoncé music videos or Snapchatting with Kate Middleton.

Melisssa Pine (Manila Bulletin)

Melisssa Pine

Continuing a legacy

Billie Jean King’s legacy in women’s tennis far exceeded her achievements on the court. Because of her work and campaign for gender equality, players like the Serena Williams, Eugenie Bouchard, Steffi Graf, Maria Sharapova, among many others were able to make a dazzling career in a sport that was, in the beginning, dominated by men.

“Billie Jean King founded the Women’s Tennis Association 43 years ago because women, who were playing the same sport for the same crowds as the men, weren’t making any money out of it,” shares Melisssa Pine, vice-president of Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Asia Pacific and tournament director of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore. “Obviously, that’s not fair. And it became her dream that any girl, anywhere in the world, should be able to make a living playing tennis if she wanted to and if she was good enough. She stood up against the establishment and formed an all-women professional tour.”

PAYING IT FORWARD Under the WTA outreach program, Melissa endeavors to get more rackets in kid’s hands and teach them about the benefits of the sport. (Photo courtesy of WTA)

PAYING IT FORWARD Under the WTA outreach program, Melissa endeavors to get more rackets in kid’s hands and teach them about the benefits of the sport. (Photo courtesy of WTA)

True enough, tennis in 2016, more than the chic messy ponytails and designer athleisure clothes, is an equal playing field for women and men. As tennis becomes more modern, diverse, and inclusive, the more it becomes relevant—not just to tennis superstars and spectators but to girls who have long dreamed to play competitively before a crowd and even girls who may not have access to the sport but have the skill and talent for it.

Recently, as part of the WTA Future Stars initiative to encourage teens to pursue their passion for tennis, WTA led a clinic in Manila with over 30 young Pinoys participating—10 competitive players in the under-14 (U-14) and under-16 (U-16) age groups and 20 children from the Cebuana Lhuiller Foundation and U! Happy Organization.

(Manila Bulletin)

(Manila Bulletin)

“The WTA Future Stars is a U-14 and U-16 junior development platform that reaches out to kids all across Asia Pacific. We started with 12 countries when we first launched it in 2014. It was a great success and we had a lot of countries interested and more countries wanted to be part of it. Now we’ve expanded to 18, and the Philippines has been with us since day one,” Melissa says.

Manila is the fifth WTA Future Stars stop this year on the road to the WTA Finals in Singapore. Alexandra Eala and Carlyn Guarde won respectively the U-14 and U-16 categories of the three-day Cebuana Lhuillier Tennis Challenge at the Valle Verde Country Club last week. Alexandra and Carlyn will be the representatives to the regional tournament in Singapore next month, held in conjunction with the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

GIRLS FOR GIRLS Melissa with Cebuana Lhuiller Tennis challenge participating teen players (from left) Macie Carlos, Miles Vitaliano, Alexandra Eala, and Gennifer Pagente. Alexandra went on to win the U-14 category during the qualifier. She will fly to Singapore with Carlyn Guarde (U-16) to compete next in WTA Future Stars tournament in Singapore.

GIRLS FOR GIRLS Melissa with Cebuana Lhuiller Tennis challenge participating teen players (from left) Macie Carlos, Miles Vitaliano, Alexandra Eala, and Gennifer Pagente. Alexandra went on to win the U-14 category during the qualifier. She will fly to Singapore with Carlyn Guarde (U-16) to compete next in WTA Future Stars tournament in Singapore.

“The girls not only get to play on the same stage as WTA stars. They also get to meet them, have mentoring opportunities with them, and get autographed rackets from them,” says Melissa.

Not just because of the pomp and pageantry and thrill of competing before a hundred thousand people, but more because most of these young girls have never left home before or never believed a life or a career in sports is within their reach. Melissa, for one, who went to university in the US on a full tennis scholarship and got to travel the world and worked in four different countries because of tennis, is so indebted to the sport and believes tennis helps girls in so many ways outside the tennis court and just physical fitness.

“Studies show that kids who play tennis do better in school, have more focus, and it helps so much with self-confidence. It just really empowers young girls and I’m obviously a huge advocate of the sport. You know tennis has provided me with so many opportunities in life I wouldn’t normally have. So I really do feel responsibility to give back and if we can touch one young girl and change her life because of tennis, then, you know, I feel like I’ve done my job,” Melissa says.

Finding your own path

The WTA Future Stars also features a grassroots development initiative to introduce the sport to less privileged communities throughout Asia Pacific. Through this outreach program, WTA reaches kids who wouldn’t normally have access to tennis. “We try to get more rackets in kids’ hands, try to teach them about the benefits of the sport, a healthy lifestyle, and living better through tennis. It really is a way to kind of, with hope, inspire the next generation. Get more people playing, and more kids involved,” she says.

Because it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your background is, or how you were brought up, you just need a racket, a ball, a dream, a goal, and strong belief in yourself that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve, no matter the circumstances.