From the surreal setting of Key Biscayne’s magical backdrop to the philanthropic feel-good vibe of the best tennis players in the world mixing it up with the locals, the annual Cliff Drysdale Celebrity Tennis All-Star Charity Event has evolved into one of the absolute best entertainment values at the Miami Open.

Like a scene from a James Bond movie, the elegant, cool confines of the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne Miami once again hosted throngs of tennis fans who got an up-close look at Venus Williams, top American ATP player Jack Sock, Simona Halep, Nick Kyrigos and other ATP and WTA players who helped raise $14,500 for the First Serve Miami Foundation, helping young people achieve their dreams.

One of those people is 17-year-old Christopher Tormo, who has benefited from the foundation’s philanthropy and appreciates the help. “Frist Serve for me is an amazing program,” the tennis playing teen said. “I love everybody over there. They help me with tournaments, things I need for school…everything. It’s just a life saver.”

The Coral Gables High School junior was starry-eyed as he got up-close-and-personal with the best tennis players in the world, who were helping to raise money for people like him.

“It was just amazing that I could be like 5 feet away from these players; it’s amazing in itself,” he said. “I can’t explain it into words how it feels that they take the time to help First Serve and me and all the others is flabbergasting at this point.”

The smiles on the faces on everybody at the Cliff Drysdale Center told the whole story.

With soothing music playing lightly in the background on a sun-soaked afternoon, people walked the grounds, sipping champagne, eating hors d’oeuvres, admiring amazing items on display for a silent auction and enjoying one another’s company on Key Biscayne.

Courtney Cache came in from New York to once again get in on the fun. “I come every year, it’s an amazing charity event and it’s a lot of fun – and for me, it’s sort of the highlight of the Miami Open week,” Cache said as she waved to friends walking by. “The energy is great. The week just started we have a lot of stars here and local celebrities.

“We’ve got great weather, we’ve got champagne, it’s great.”

Her 10-year-old daughter Brooke, at the event for the first time, summed up her impression of the charity tournament. “I think it’s cool, it’s like a party kind of,” she said.

Cliff Drysdale, the magnetic Hall of Fame host, said the event is made possible through a total team effort. He continues to see everybody reaping the benefits, which fuels his continued support: “We do it because the hotel is still onboard and Tatiana Lora (Ritz Public Relations Director), who started the whole thing, continues to support us. It makes a nice contribution for charitable purposes, and it’s a fun thing to do for everybody – for the spectators, for the sponsors, for the players. Everybody has a smile on their face for an excellent cause.”

For nearly 37 years, more than 50,000 young people have had the opportunity to learn tennis and valuable life skills by participating in First Serve Miami programs.

The initiative is designed to serve as a pathway for players to potentially go all the way, from beginners to competitive and even professionals, while learning life skills and an array of educational and social skills through the First Serve development programs that emphasize character development, self-esteem and academic achievement.

First Serve Chairman of the Board James Champion took in the action at the all-star event and talked about what the support means to the foundation. “It means a lot because without them we would not have the revenue to be able to provide the services to the kids our programs depend on – people like Cliff and the Ritz-Carlton organization and other other organizations provide revenue so we can expand our programs.”

Champion said First Serve uses less than 5 percent of its revenue for operating expenses and relies heavily on the volunteers he so greatly appreciates. He said the program continues to work with kids at every level on life and tennis participation.

“We’re running over 300 kids a week, and in our special Adopt-A-Player program we have 25-30 kids who are the individuals competing at a high level and need support hopefully to get a college scholarship, etc.…so it’s very, very important.”

Key Biscayne resident Jill Stephens summed up the event while enjoying every aspect of the afternoon. “The weather is beautiful and the Miami Open is just an annual celebration for not just Miami but for Key Biscayne. I was surprised to see the silent auction, and I think that comes from Cliff and his wife Diana Drysdale. I love to see that charity aspect and giving back, which is so important,” she said.

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