As its mission states, Second Serve empowers adolescents age 12 and up of any location “to grow into leaders by creating service opportunities.”

When Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez faced off for the US Open title, their unlikely meeting injected excitement and vigor to those inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and to those watching on screens around the world. For the first all-teenage Grand Slam final in 22 years provided an uplifting outlook on the future of tennis—and the capable caretakers that can drive it forward in a period defined by restrained realities.

Away from Flushing Meadows, the youth movement is captivating well beyond forehands and backhands, as emerging leaders in communities across the United States have not let the COVID-19 pandemic halt their aspirations. Take Amani and Ayanna Shah of San Diego, Calif. The two junior players traveled to Mexico in the summer of 2019 to visit a project started by one of their first tennis coaches, Eduardo Sanchez.

In witnessing the impact of free tennis programming to the children of the Tecate community, the sister duo was moved by Sanchez’s work to scale up. Their concept: a youth-run non-profit redistributing lightly used equipment to kids in underserved areas globally. The name, fitting as ever: Second Serve.

“Tennis has long had an imaginary barrier surrounding it, being deemed an elitist, ‘gentleman’s’ sport with high costs to play,” says Amani Shah. “While there has been great progress with this at a professional level, it is our goal to replicate that progress at a grassroots level. Involvement in sport can bring children unparalleled joy, while also reducing childhood obesity, giving latchkey children a positive community to be a part of, and boosting academic performance.

“Through Second Serve, we want to make sure everyone gets the chance to play all around the world.”

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A little over 2,000 miles east, Linden Patterson underwent a similar epiphany. A competitive junior herself, the Atlanta resident was exercising in the family garage one day when her eyes honed in on a set of equipment. This didn’t involve adding dumbbells or machines to her workout routine. Instead, a weight of remorse hit Patterson when seeing an untouched collection of used racquets, bags and shoes.

“I realized how wasteful this was, especially when the equipment had plenty of life left in it,” says Patterson. “I figured other tennis players probably had the same dilemma, so I started asking around my tennis community for donations.”

Donating as an individual is one simple gesture. Turning it into a sustainable act of giving back is an entirely different concept. Though initially challenged by getting Love-ALL Tennis off the ground, Patterson did what any teenager with a smart phone would: fire up the ‘Gram.

“Social media allowed Love-ALL Tennis to grow even more than I could have expected,” the 18-year-old says. “After making our Instagram, people from all over were now aware of our cause.

“I received racquets from opponents at tournaments, shipments from all over the country, and just an incredible increase in donations all around.”

With the Shahs, now 17 and 15, it took an extensive trial-and-error process to create a model that could be replicated by fellow young visionaries. In navigating that learning curve, their reach as of September 2021 spans 29 states and 15 countries, with more than 95 junior players worldwide involved with fostering their mission.

With a substantial increase in participation during the pandemic, making the  sport accessible to everyone has never been more important—especially to someone like Patterson.

With a substantial increase in participation during the pandemic, making the sport accessible to everyone has never been more important—especially to someone like Patterson.

If there’s a lesson to take away from their work, it’s the universal language tennis is so gifted at speaking.

“Playing with someone, you can build such a great connection and feel so much joy,” believes Amani Shah. “Regardless of what is going on in your life, tennis acts as an escape and an equalizer. I believe sports have an unparalleled power to uplift and unite people.”

In the Garden State, 18-year-old Grace Hamburg knows all about the unity Shah speaks to. When she was in the eighth grade, Hamburg chose to work with the Special Olympics at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) for her community service project. While she donated her time—often with tennis player Tom Monzo, who is more than three times her age—Hamburg received an unexpected gift in return: a second family.

“These athletes have taught me to have true determination in what I do every day,” Hamburg says. “When I come across something that I deem to be unachievable, I remember the will these athletes have every time they walk onto the court. This experience also gained me immense friendships and memories that I will cherish forever and look forward to continuing.”

Hamburg has stayed involved with the Special Olympics chapter since beginning her initial service. Picking up the sport at five, she was mentored by coach Jack Keller and inspired by Billie Jean King, an idol Hamburg elected to highlight in the third grade. Role models like these two have been important influences, and friendships like the one she shares with Monzo further opened her eyes on the virtues that matter.

“I believe this definitely shaped the person I am today,” declares Hamburg, who notably now finds herself studying engineering and playing tennis at TCNJ.

“It has made me more aware, patient and inclusive, qualities everyone should obtain. Learning those, along with the several other attributes the Special Olympics teaches, is something every child or adult should experience.”

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Hamburg and Monzo pose for a photo after a hit.

Hamburg and Monzo pose for a photo after a hit. 

Patterson, a freshman on the Davidson College tennis team, has a similar takeaway from her experiences in the sport. Persistence, work ethic and sportsmanship are traits she has accumulated along the way, but ultimately, bonding has left the most lasting of impressions.

“The people of the tennis community are unlike no other,” Patterson says. “Tennis has provided me with lifelong friends, an incredible group of teammates and opportunities to learn from people who I never would have met without tennis. I want others to be given the opportunity to form these relationships through our amazing sport.”

Recognition has rolled in this past summer for these young tennis crusaders. The USTA Foundation selected Patterson and Hamburg as recipients of the Eve Kraft Education & College Scholarship, earning $2,500 each towards their educational pursuits. The elder Shah received the Billie Jean King Youth Leadership Award, which came with a $10,000 scholarship to use toward college or a non-profit of her choice.

Gratitude is also a common result linking Patterson, Hamburg and the Shahs. For the pair of California high-schoolers who cite Roger Federer as their favorite player, their outreach goes beyond giving back. It’s a source of character building and enriching education.

“Many of these children have nothing but a dream,” says Ayanna Shah. “Their happiness, work ethic, belief, and grit is exemplary.”

Raducanu and Fernandez admirably represented those four traits in Queens to realize their ambition of playing in a major final. Thanks to the consummate endeavors of Hamburg, Patterson and the Shah sisters, dreamers in the U.S. and around the world will be empowered by tennis to dream even bigger. The future of our sport is in good hands—but so is the present.