BALTIMORE GETS an in-person look tonight at the two hottest tennis players in the world -- including the one who has risen to No. 2 and is threatening to replace Steffi Graf as No. 1. That's 16-year-old Monica Seles. Her opponent in a best-of-three singles match at the Arena is 14-year-old sensation Jennifer Capriati, who's ranked No. 8.
Pam Shriver, who put together the First National Bank Tennis Festival, presented by The Baltimore Sun, gives an insider's look at Seles' meteoric and unexpected rise:
"A year ago everybody thought Steffi Graf would rule the game for the next five years," Shriver said. "Nobody thought Seles would come on this fast to challenge her. Monica was No. 6. But Seles has already moved ahead of Martina Navratilova into No. 2 and when Monica gets a chance to wipe some early '90 losses off the computer she'll be right there with Steffi. She'll be with her in the rankings and on the court."
What makes Seles so good?
Says Shriver: "She hits the ball hard, two-handed, forehand and backhand. A lefty serve is always tough. And she has great concentration in spite of her age. When you talk to Jennifer Capriati, you realize you're with a 14-year-old. Monica is extremely mature for her age.
"With 10,000 people in the stands tonight, they'll play hard and put on a good show. I think the match that will capture the public's fancy will be the doubles with Cal Ripken and me playing Elise Burgin and Dr. J [Julius Erving]. Cal has been working hard on his game for the past 10 days with Laura Dupont. He won't embarrass himself."
* There's a new spirit in the air at College Park and it's clear that the new athletic director, Andy Geiger, is largely responsible. Almost with a snap of the fingers last week he rehired Joe Krivak as football coach and got 6-5 Maryland in the Independence Bowl. We're not used to that kind of decisiveness at Maryland.
In 1985, when Maryland was 9-3 overall and won the ACC championship with a 6-0 record, university officials hemmed and hawed and finally accepted a bid to the Cherry Bowl. The Terps didn't even get paid in full and the Cherry Bowl soon went out of business. That was the beginning of Maryland's financial problems.
Now, although the team has a more modest season's record (hey, Maryland played a tough schedule in '85 -- Michigan, Miami, Penn State, Syracuse) Geiger has everybody on campus ecstatic over the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl. Shows what effective leadership can do.
* People around the University of Virginia say football coach George Welsh is more relaxed this week than he has been in a while -- even though his Cavaliers have lost three of their last four games. Says one Charlottesville man: "George hated it when Virginia was No. 1. He never thought the team should have been rated that high. You get the feeling George thinks none of this would have happened if Virginia had been ranked No. 18." And, to be sure, Virginia would not have been invited to the Sugar Bowl and its $3.25 million payoff, while ACC champion (and Virginia conqueror) Georgia Tech goes to the Florida Citrus for less than half that.
* Those who think it's all over for the Syracuse lacrosse dynasty with the Gait twins, Paul and Gary, finished can get an argument from the Gaits themselves. They were here Thanksgiving weekend representing equipment manufacturer STX. "We have plenty of talent left, plus some good new players," Gary said. "The team will contend for the title again."
Added Paul: "Already this fall they've beaten the No. 2 team, Loyola."
At Lax World in Kenilworth Mall the Gaits sat behind a table signing autographs and giving out posters from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Often they drew a longer line than Santa Claus in the same mall. The Gaits will be back here to play indoors against the Thunder next month -- four days after Santa's visit. There's no chance they'll upstage him in December.