Last night, the U.S. Open's Opening Night Ceremony "Reach & Dream" celebrated and honored the inspiring stories of four people who used tennis, and its benefits and rewards, to overcome adversity and achieve greatly . . .
Martina Navratilova - the tennis champion who won 167 professional titles after defecting from the former Communist Czechoslovakia in 1975. Martina came out as a "gay woman" in 1981, and recently overcame breast cancer.
James Blake - the fan-favorite player who reached No. 4 in the world, won 10 singles titles and became a key U.S. Davis Cup competitor. James battled scoliosis as a child (a condition that forced the wearing of a neck brace), accidentally fractured his neck in practice in 2004, and suffered zoster (a virus which paralyzed his face and threatened to end his playing career).
Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands - the unrivaled wheelchair tennis champion who has been a paraplegic since age 8. Esther has won 11 U.S. Open singles titles in the Wheelchair division, has been ranked No. 1 since 1999, and has not lost a single match since 2003.
Samadzai-Bonner - the immigrant player who was not allowed to play tennis as a young girl in her native Afghanistan. But she found her way to the United States after the Soviet invasion, and discovered tennis as a high school student. She now plays as a USTA member in Alabama and called tennis her "escape from the years of misery I lived through simply because I was born a girl."
Martina spoke to all tennis fans and supporters at the ceremony, and said that playing tennis and carrying a positive attitude helped her overcome her challenges. "Attitude is a choice", she said. So always keep a positive attitude, she urged, and "if you can hit a few tennis balls along the way, that's great too!"
Gloria Estafan, the Cuban-American Grammy-winning singer who recovered from her own personal adversity of a broken back in a bus accident in 1990, closed the ceremony with a performance of her hit song Reach, challenging its listeners to reach for the sky.