Sharapova latest star coming to Baltimore

Tournament's history, timing make it ideal


September 14, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

"Little Georgie," Pam Shriver's 2-month-old son, was sleeping soundly on his grandmother's shoulder yesterday as Shriver made the official announcement that Maria Sharapova is coming to town to play in the Mercantile Charity Challenge Dec. 17.

It was appropriate for the new baby to make an appearance, after all, said his mom. "It's probably partly because I was home awaiting his birth and not at any tennis matches from April until the U.S. Open that we haven't got our field set."

The fact that Shriver has been bringing the best players the tennis world has to offer to town for the past 18 years makes the lack of a supporting lineup less of a big deal than it might otherwise be when it comes to ticket sales.

"We do have the credibility of previous years," Shriver said. "If we don't have the No. 1 or former No. 1 player in the world, the tournament is an event now. People know they're going to see good tennis, and they know what the tournament is about - raising money for Baltimore Community Foundation."

Over the years, the tournament has raised $3.4 million for the children's charities supported by the BCF.

This year's event is only a month before the new season begins at the Australian Open. The reason is Shriver wanted Sharapova, who played in the futures match last year, to be the main attraction.

"This is where it fit into Maria's schedule," said Shriver. "Her dad is being very careful not to overload her schedule. They want to give her a couple weeks without a racket in her hand and then a couple weeks of practice and then a couple practice matches. Ten days after her match here, she'll be traveling to Australia for the Open.

"The fact that our event is close to the start of the new season should help us. The word is out that we get a good crowd that appreciates and expects good tennis. So it should be viewed as a pretty serious preparatory match. Those factors can create useful pressure on the players preparing for Australia."

Shriver said she hopes to get an American Top 10 woman as Sharapova's opponent.

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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