When Hurricane Dorian tore through the northern part of the Bahamas in September, it hit more than close to home for former doubles world No. 1 Mark Knowles.
Among the countless natives devastated by the destruction was his sister Samara, whose family lost everything. It’s one of the many layers behind Knowles returning to his roots of giving back to communities closest to him, after raising more than $1 million over a 13-year stretch through a family-run charity event hosted on home soil.
The Bahamian and resort Baha Mar had been planning a collaboration, but quickly worked to launch the first Baha Mar Cup, a multi-day event (Nov. 7-10) featuring a live/silent auction, play with the pros opportunity and exhibition. Its primary ambition is to provide relief to hurricane victims and support long-term recovery efforts, as locals endeavor to begin rebuilding their homeland. For Knowles, it was a no-brainer in aligning his past work with the mission of the emerging beach destination.
“Baha Mar was going to host its first foundation event this year. When the devastation hit, we quickly created a partnership,” Knowles told TENNIS.com. “It’s an unfortunate sequence of events on why we have to come together but these things happen. They have a wonderful tennis facility and they’ve put a lot into it. It gives us a really good opportunity to create a special event, one we don’t want to have just this year, but for the years to come.”
Tennis players have long led the way when it comes to philanthropy. From Andre Agassi to Andy Roddick, there is a unified sense of extending a hand to those less fortunate with each generation in the locker room. Roddick, one of the first Knowles heard from in the aftermath of the storm, is one of the many “outstanding” examples of support the four-time major doubles champion has received.
“Andy Roddick is somebody who stands out. I got a message within hours of Hurricane Dorian striking down. He texted asking to let me know if there was anything he could to do to help. When the Baha Mar Cup came together, he was one of the first guys I reached out to.
“As competitors, we obviously are going after each other, wanting what the other person wants. It’s a tough atmosphere. At the end of the day, you see the silver lining with all players. They respect their opponents and we’re in it together. I think that’s important.”
In addition to Roddick, Tommy Haas, Bob Bryan, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and James Blake also jumped in to back the cause. In mid-October, event organizers announced 15-year-old Coco Gauff would be pitching in to help. The news came just days after the Delray Beach, FL resident became the youngest American in 28 years to capture a WTA title when she defeated Jelena Ostapenko for the Linz crown. Knowles couldn’t be more thrilled about welcoming the breakout sensation to his country and recognizes the significance of her participation.
“I’d like to take full credit for that, with the way it lined up, Coco winning her first title and coming to the Bahamas a couple weeks after. But I can’t,” said Knowles. “Coco’s only 15 but she’s already put herself on the superstar map. We know what her future is going to entail. That brings even more prestige to the event. I’m personally thrilled to be just around Coco Gauff. How cool is that?!”
If there’s one takeaway Knowles wants to resonate across the board, it’s that his country is not only resilient, but raring to go. Though it will take considerable time to recover, rebuild and reach sustainability in the affected areas of the northern Bahamas, other islands are still hopping and hoping to greet guests.
“We continue to want people to visit, because tourism is our number one industry. That’s how we survive.”