Agassi, Roddick are up for challenge at Arena

Shriver's charity event gets big names, crowd

Tennis

September 11, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Tennis fans, circle Dec. 12 on your calendars. World No. 2 Andre Agassi and young, rising star Andy Roddick are coming to the Baltimore Arena as the main draw in the Chevy Chase Bank Tennis Challenge.

Baltimore's Pam Shriver, the retired pro who created this event 16 years ago, will make the announcement at a news conference this morning.

"We've been talking to Andre for the last couple of years," Shriver said. "It finally worked out."

Shriver laughed.

After working those two years to snag one of the most entertaining players in professional tennis, a new complication presented itself. Agassi's fiancee, Steffi Graf, became pregnant. That meant a little date shuffling.

Until now, the event had always been held during the week of Thanksgiving.

"We had to do a little juggling," Shriver said.

Once the date was set, there was the need for an opponent, and Agassi said he'd like to play Roddick.

Roddick, 19, was ranked in the 300s a year ago. After making it to this year's U.S. Open quarterfinals, where he lost a thrilling five-set match to eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt, he has broken into the Top 15.

"Last year, we got Pete Sampras to help us out at the last moment," Shriver said. "Would you like a Sampras-Agassi match? Yes. But it's just too hard to pull off. We approached Andy last March at the Ericsson Open, and when he heard Andre wanted to play him, it was easy to work out the deal."

Over the years, nearly every big name in tennis has appeared in her charity event at one time or another.

Last year, the exhibition had record attendance. More than 10,000 crowded into the arena to see Sampras and Todd Martin. The event brought in more than $300,000 and pushed the total amount raised over 15 years past $3.6 million. All the funds go to benefit children's charities through the Baltimore Community Foundation.

Shriver said she is not worried about Agassi's appearance being complicated by the birth of his first child.

"Let's just say I've been given every assurance," she said. "This is the second exhibition back on his schedule, and that makes me feel more comfortable."

Because the Baltimore event is well-known in the professional tennis community, Shriver said it has been easier for her to expand the playing field from the women's side to the men's.

Shriver had been inviting women here because there was a natural feeder system in place with the women's year-ending championships in New York the week before her tournament. But that is no longer the case, and Shriver scrambled for a replacement match last year.

"Surprisingly, I've actually found it easier working with the men," Shriver said. "Last year, just 10 days to go to the event, Anna [Kournikova] pulls out and Sampras and Todd Martin demonstrate great cooperation and show up. It's nice to knows the guys are willing to help out."

One of the reasons, Shriver said, is that this exhibition, if not the longest-running charity tennis event, is right up there.

"People are aware of the quality, the crowd and the charities involved," she said. "In Andre's case, he is so involved with his own charity work that every fee we pay him to be here is going directly to his charter school back in Las Vegas. For a night, anyway, Baltimore and Las Vegas will be sister cities."

Facts, figures

What:16th Chevy Chase Bank Tennis Challenge, presented by The Baltimore Sun

Where: Baltimore Arena

When: Dec. 12

Time: 7 p.m.

Tickets: Priced from $15 to $90. Available by calling 410-481-SEAT or at the Baltimore Arena box office. For more information, call 410-296-2929 or visit the event Web site at www.tennischallenge.org.

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