Sharapova set to play Baltimore in December

Shriver's tournament books Wimbledon champ


September 13, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

The Mercantile Charity Challenge, Pam Shriver's 19th tennis event held here in support of children's charities, will come later than ever this December, but the star attraction will be hot.

Shriver will announce today at a Baltimore news conference that tennis phenom Maria Sharapova, 17, will play in the main match Dec. 17 at 1st Mariner Arena.

Shriver and her group are also working to confirm an opponent, who will be announced in a few weeks.

Only a year ago, Sharapova was here playing Ashley Harkleroad in the tournament's Futures match.

Who knew the future was just around the corner?

Sharapova, a native of Russia who moved with her dad to Florida at age 7, earned her first career Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon in July and became the WTA Tour's brightest attraction.

"2004 has been such an exciting year for me," said Sharapova. "Winning Wimbledon was an unbelievable experience. And now, I look forward to coming back to Baltimore in December to get ready for 2005 and to help support Pam in her charity efforts."

In 18 years, the tournament has raised more than $3.4 million for children's charities in the area, helped by nearly every star on the tennis horizon. Through the years, Baltimore tennis fans have been treated to appearances by Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati and Serena and Venus Williams.

Last year, Andy Roddick and James Blake played the feature match, while Sharapova and Harkleroad entertained on the undercard.

"We're really, really pleased to have Maria come back," said Shriver, who was in New York the past two weeks working for CBS at the U.S. Open. "I think in Baltimore, people enjoy seeing the top athletes and appreciate it when they appear in back-to-back years. It creates a kind of relationship between the players and the fans."

Shriver said that though Sharapova won't be 18 until April, Wimbledon was the most impressive performance she has seen by a first-time finalist.

"To perform the way she did against Serena on grass," said Shriver, "it was stunning how easily she dismissed her. Then, to combine that performance with her charisma and the way she looks - well, it was a world headline. It made the cover of Sports Illustrated, something that happens for tennis maybe once every five years, if that."

Tickets, priced $20 to $100, are available at the arena box office, at Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 410-481-SEAT. For more information, call 410-296-2929.

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