Nino Severino: Meeting Rafa, Venus and new sensation Coco Gauff at Wimbledon was a dream come true for foundation girls
PUBLISHED: 10:44 10 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:44 10 July 2019
In his latest column, Nino Severino discusses the experience of a lifetime at Wimbledon this week, as his Elena Baltacha Foundation players met some of the biggest stars in the tennis world - including the newest sensation on the circuit.
We are now in the final days of the World's most famous tennis tournament, Wimbledon, and the end of what has been a simply incredible experience for me, members of The Elena Baltacha Foundation, parents and players who we support.
We are lucky enough to have a great relationship with the WTA, which means that we can take some of our young players to each of the big grass-court tournaments put on in the UK over the summer - Nottingham, Birmingham, Eastbourne and the big one, Wimbledon - where they get to enjoy VIP, behind-the-scenes access.
It goes without saying that this an exceptional opportunity for our players, and this year provided incredible memories for the girls.
Part of these memories will be one event in particular that will form part of tennis history - a future star of the tennis world emerged at Wimbledon 2019, the brilliant 15-year-old Corie Gauff.
It all came about as a result of a chance meeting I had during an event called "Celebrating Our Champions", an evening spent with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, honouring their great rivalry and now, great friendship.
On the table I was seated at there were two ladies who were very excited about Wimbledon, and for a very good reason - the player that they had been supporting for over five years was playing in the first round the following week.
I did not know it then, but this baby-faced young female athlete would rock the world of tennis by knocking out the legendary Venus Williams and then reaching the second week and fourth round of The Championships. Her name of course, is Corie Gauff!
Anyway, on arrival at Wimbledon, we collected our accreditation and made our way to the players' entrance, where our first experience would set us up for a day that none of us will ever forget.
As we were walking towards the entrance a car approached, and the girls got very excited wondering which player was sitting inside.
The door opened and the greatest clay court player of all time emerged, the iconic Rafael Nadal! He approached the security team to get his bags checked, and the girls made sure that they were closely tucked up behind him, next in the line.
Rafa was incredible, he took time to chat to them and take a picture that they will all cherish for a life time.
As the day progressed Wimbledon and the WTA had arranged some incredible opportunities for the girls - meetings with Venus Williams, Nick Kyrios, Sloane Stephens and the legend that is Kim Clijsters.
There was one player who was not on the list, and one, that I thought could offer an incredibly motivational and inspirational experience, the aforementioned Corie Gauff.
By the time we arrived at Wimbledon, Corie, or Coco as she is affectionally called, was already a global sensation and it was almost impossible for anyone to get anywhere near this tennis prodigy.
It was at this point that my chance encounter with Marilyn Mertz at the earlier event would offer us a chance of meeting Coco.
Marilyn knew all about The Elena Baltacha Foundation, and all we try to achieve for young tennis players in the Ipswich area, so I hoped that she would feel she could some how create an opportunity to meet this rising young star.
I called her, and with absolutely no hesitation she agreed to help. It was all arranged at Aorangi, the area where all the players train and warm up, where we had the opportunity to watch her train for over an hour, and then a specially arranged opportunity to meet her, her father, mother and her whole support team.
Coco could not have given us any more attention, care and interest - she spent 25 minutes chatting with all of them, and it really was a dream come true for these girls who had watched this talented teenager beat Venus on Court One just a few days before.
Coco spends part of her time training in the USA and part at the World Famous Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in Nice, France, and during our conversations we discussed the opportunity of some of our players visiting this mecca of tennis.
Now wouldn't that be an incredible chance of a lifetime for our girls - training on the court next to their newest friend, Coco!