If you ever have had the urge to drive a forehand down the line, slam an ace down the middle or smash an overhead winner, Mary Jo Fernández and the U.S. Tennis Association are looking for you.
Tennis -- whose storied history includes Latino greats such as Pancho Gonzales and Gabriela Sabattini -- would like to spice up the sport with more Latinos. Tennis participation in the United States peaked at 40.9 million in 1974, according to the Tennis Industry Association. That has tailed off to 24.2 million.
The association, which in 2006 adopted a diversity plan designed to get more minorities involved at all levels of the game, hopes Fernández can pay dividends in getting more Latinos to take up the sport.
Tennis ranks seventh in popularity in the United States, behind football, baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey.
Fernández, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is of Dominican descent, said she would love to see more fellow Latinos on the courts. As part of National Tennis Month in May, Fernández is calling on Latinos to pick up a racquet and participate in one of the thousands of tennis block parties sponsored by the U.S. Tennis Association.
"Tennis is very popular across the world," she said from Atlanta in a telephone interview last week. "It's something you can play anywhere, anytime. It's healthy and active, and it's been really, really positive in the Hispanic community."
Fernández and the tennis association have their work cut out for them. Soccer and boxing remain major sports in México and other Latin American countries. Soccer's Cuauhtémoc Blanco and boxing's Jorge Arce are household names.
Bruno Etchagaray, México's highest-ranked tennis player, isn't. He is ranked in the 700s by the Association of Tennis Professionals and has two singles victories in México's early-round Davis Cup matches.
Fernández said becoming a professional is not the goal. The association wants to introduce new players to the sport. And she's exuberant in saying that it requires no money or even a country club to play.
"I used to play two hours a day after school," she said. "My family was really big on education, so if I wanted to play, I needed to finish school. And it's actually a misconception, a myth that you have to have money to play. It's really affordable to play."
Those two hours a day helped Fernández reach Wimbledon, where the game is played on grass. In London, Wimbledon is considered the world's most prestigious tennis tournament.
Fernández also competed on the slow, red-clay courts of Roland Garros at the French Open and under the extreme heat of the Australian Open.
She was the youngest player, at 14 years and eight days in 1985, to win a U.S. Open match.
"Tennis has been a very big part of my life," she said. "It's a dream come true."
To find a tennis block party, go online at www.usta.com.