Laila Ali still hits hard. Not with punches, but as the USTA's youth tennis spokesperson as part of her post-boxing career as a health expert. On Tuesday, she celebrates World Tennis Day, an annual celebration encouraging kids and families to play. She talks to ThePostGame about the event, as well as father Muhammad's lack of tennis skills.
ThePostGame: What exactly are you doing for World Tennis Day?
LAILA ALI: The USTA is celebrating World Tennis Day. It's an annual celebration encouraging kids and families to play tennis. The USTA is making it easier and more fun to get into tennis and stay in the game with the equipment changes they have now. Obviously, I'm involved because I'm an advocate for fitness and wellness and keeping the kids active.
TPG: Similarly, you were promoting health and wellness during U.S. Open National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month (September).
ALI: I'm here again, being a cheerleader!
TPG: What are some new initiatives the USTA is taking in 2016?
ALI: It really is an annual celebration. Six months ago and six months from now, we're going to continue pushing the same message, getting more people involved in tennis. In 2015, more than 50,000 young players participated in the youth event held in March. It's just designed in an easier way for family to get involved.
TPG: Why is tennis important to you?
ALI: All sports -- physical activity -- is important to me. I like that the USTA made a big effort and pushed their resources toward physical activity for kids because I'm very much aware of the problem we're having here with kids not getting enough physical activity, heart disease, obesity and diabetes and all of these things. Whenever I can get involved with anything for the good of kids and them being physically active, I do. I loved the game of tennis growing up. I didn't stay with it, and that is a regret that I have. Part of the reason that I didn't was it was technical and I didn't have so much fun because I was so focused on the technical aspect of the game. It's easier now than ever for kids to get in there and have fun and not have to focus on the technical side, like I did. (Laughs).
TPG: Was your father a good tennis player?
ALI: I don't think so. He had good footwork. He also was quick, but I don't remember him ever playing tennis. My mom, [Veronica Porsche Ali,] on the other hand, she played a little bit of tennis. In my household, outside of boxing, nobody was really pushing sports and that's why I'm such an advocate of pushing sports now. To have the support a kid needs, it's a family effort and it's important for parents to be good role models. I'm not saying they have to push for their kid to become a professional athlete, but sports have so many benefits for kids growing up, so I think all kids should participate in some way.
TPG: What was your family's best sport outside of boxing?
ALI: Both my parents were fit and active, but there wasn't a big focus. My mom always worked out and always went running. My dad, training to be a fighter, was always active, but as far as just playing sports, that wasn't big in my household.
TPG: What are some fitness and food initiatives you're taking right now to stay in shape?
ALI: For me, I just live an active lifestyle. Being fit is a priority for me. Eating healthy is a priority for me. A lot of what I do is also encourage families and parents, since they're the ones who make the choices on what they are bringing into their households and feeding their kids, eat real food. Stop eating all this processed food you're faced with every time you turn the corner. People don't understand why their kids are getting sick or why their kids are getting obese or why their kids are addicted to sugar and salt and the bad stuff. I'm trying to encourage people to start cooking at home because that's the only way you're actually going to know what's in the food. That's a message I'm constantly spreading on my own, as well.
As part of World Tennis Day, Madison Square Garden hosts the BNP Paribas Showdown -- Serena Williams vs. Caroline Wozniacki, and Stan Wawrinka vs. Gael Monfils -- on Tuesday night.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.