After a trying process of arranging her charity tennis event last year, the last thing Pam Shriver wanted was a repeat of the experience for this year's Dec. 4 show at 1st Mariner Arena, especially with a new sponsor.
Shriver, member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and founder of what is now known as the Mercantile Tennis Challenge, didn't lock up last year's featured participants - Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport - until mid-October. Earlier this year, she began the quest for players hoping to finish before summer, with their prominence being secondary.
Her harvest for the challenge's 18th year, reaped well before the French Open began in late May, was Andy Roddick and James Blake, then considered a pair of up-and-comers. Given Roddick's U.S. Open victory on Sunday, consider the mission accomplished, and then some.
Back then, it provided peace of mind. Now, Roddick's 19 straight wins and ascension to a No. 2 world ranking should supply an automatic draw to the event, which will also include a match between rising stars Ashley Harkleroad and Maria Sharapova and the traditional match including Orioles players.
The hope is for the first sellout of the event, which has the potential of raising $300,000 to benefit the Baltimore Community Foundation for children's charities in the area.
"It's a promoter's dream," said Shriver, a Baltimore native who was in town yesterday to announce the pairings and couldn't believe her good fortune of having gotten the 21-year-old Roddick.
"It was before he got on this tear, which made this easier, because if we'd done this now, it would be impossible."
In addition, she was beaming about the inclusion of Blake, 23, ranked 35th, but one whom she characterizes as having "the following of a top five player" by dint of the "sexiest athlete alive" tag People magazine gave him last year.
Roddick participated in Shriver's event in 2001, playing against Andre Agassi. Blake is known to Mid-Atlantic tennis fans for winning the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in 2002.
Harkleroad, 18, an American ranked 52nd on the women's tour, and Sharapova, 16, a Russian ranked 53rd, are a pair befitting the "Future Legends of Tennis Match" that will be sponsored by Northrop Grumman.
The details of the Oriole Challenge are unclear, though baseball players have played doubles with the professionals in past years.
Mercantile Bankshares Corp. takes over from Chevy Chase - which decided to drop the event last winter. Ned Kelly III, chairman of Mercantile, said when he agreed in the spring to the bank's two-year sponsorship, he had already been a fan of tennis, Shriver and the Baltimore Community Foundation.
"It's a great event and benefits the community as a whole," said Kelly, who said he had attended the event in past years and that it didn't take long to convince him. "It was a short negotiation."