INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - The ladies of professional tennis turn their hands to all sorts of things when they hang up their racquets. Many go into coaching, founding academies to impart their knowledge of the sport onto the next generation. Many go into broadcasting, putting their expertise on the forehands and backhands taking place in front of them. And some do something completely different.
One of those was in the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on Thursday. Andrea Jaeger, a former World No.2 and twice a Grand Slam finalist, was at the helm of a group of 10 children from her Little Star Foundation, who visited the BNP Paribas Open as part of a week-long Californian adventure.
Jaeger, Wimbledon finalist in 1982, French Open finalist in 1983, founded the Colorado-based Little Star in 1990, with a mission to provide memorable experiences for young cancer patients. Putting all her prize money into the foundation, she has received support from her fellow players over the years, including John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova.
"Taking kids to a tennis tournament is something of a tradition," Jaeger explained to wtatennis.com. "In fact, the first tournament I ever took kids to was Indian Wells, maybe 21 or 22 years ago!"
Fresh from meeting the American Idol judges and contestants in LA on Wednesday, first on the agenda for the group as they arrived onsite was to put their singing into practice, singing Agnieszka Radwanska a Happy 25th Birthday before posing for some photos with her.
"They knew nothing about tennis or the players, they'd only seen them in posters, so to see them so excited to meet them was amazing," Jaeger said. "It was fun for them to experience what I used to do."
The group, aged seven to 16, next ventured out to play some tennis of their own on one of the practice courts, but along the way bumped into Rafael Nadal in a corridor.
"I asked the kids, 'Do you want to play tennis, or wait for Rafa,'" Jaeger said. "'Wait for Rafa!' they shouted. It was so sweet. So we stayed and took some photos with him, and Federer came over to take some too, before running into Andy Murray on the way out."
Next on her travels with the kids is Disneyland California.
"But they were so inspired by their day here that we are taking them to play tennis first," Jaeger said. "They will be tennis fans for life now. You never know, when they are back sitting in a hospital bed, this might be the thing they remember."
Alexandra Willis (@alex_willis) is a London-based tennis writer and editor, and manages the digital, social media and publications for Wimbledon, while also contributing to a variety of other outlets.