Better weather, lots of kids events draw crowds to first day of Family Circle Cup tennis tournament

Australia Anastasia Rodionova gives souvenir tennis balls to Brody and Chase Tonon of Daniel Island after a warm-up at the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament on Saturday. David Quick/postandcourier.com Buy this photo

Sisters Sherry Monroe and Helen Whatley admit it: They are tennis addicts, and they sure demonstrated it at Saturday’s opening day of the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament.

With qualifying matches all around, Monroe and Whatley, along with Monroe’s daughter, grandson, granddaughter and grand-nephew, were gathered in front of a TV screen watching another tennis tournament, the Sony Open in Miami, cheering Serena Williams to victory over Maria Sharapova.

“Right after this, we expect them to pack their gear and come to Charleston,” said Monroe, in anticipation of watching many of the top players, including Williams, this week.

Before and after that match, the family immersed themselves in all things tennis, which included an array of tennis-related activities.

The highlight for granddaughter Jada Brown, who plays in the city of Charleston’s “Courting Kids” tennis program and last year won the Arthur Ashe essay contest, was getting a tennis ball autographed by 24-year-old Vania King.

While Monroe and Whatley have long purchased a championship package to watch matches on finals weekend, the Saturday of qualifying weekend is all for the kids.

That’s what Family Circle Cup’s Bob Moran said the tournament is trying to do by increasing the number of activities for children on qualifying weekend.

“Hey, it’s our next generation of fans, so we want to get them comfortable coming out to watch and play tennis,” said Moran, noting that the tournament added more activities for children to make qualifying weekend family friendly.

Today at noon, for example, the tournament will host an Easter egg hunt with 4,000 eggs.

Moran said another factor played more of a role in Saturday’s crowds.

“Weather drives everything, and it’s nice to have it a little warmer this weekend than it’s been (earlier) this week,” said Moran.

Some activities on Saturday didn’t involve tennis at all. Magician Chaz Misenheimer, of Richfield, N.C., was drawing crowds with his shows.

“I’ve been coming to Family Circle for years. It’s always been a favorite of mine because people come to the tournament with a magical frame of mind, so it doesn’t take much for me to take them on a little trip,” said Misenheimer.

In fact, making some kids happy sometimes just involves an aspiring tennis star handing them a tennis ball or signing one.

That’s what Australian Anastasia Rodionova did for brothers Brody and Chase Tonon, ages 6 and 4, respectively, of Daniel Island, as their mother enjoyed lunch nearby.

“It’s the simple things that make them happy,” said Lisa Tonon.

That was evident too as 2-year-old Anna Riely decorated a cookie and ate it as her grandmother Kathy Zalinski watched with a smile.

“I haven’t watched any of the tennis. My husband and Anna’s parents are, but grandma is doing this — what could be better?” said Zalinski. “I think (the Family Circle Cup) is wonderful because there’s something for everyone, for every age group.”

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