Sharapova, charities emerge winners

Wimbledon titlist beats Davenport before 8,606

match raises $275,000

Tennis

December 18, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

OK, it wasn't the semifinals at Wimbledon, where No. 1 Lindsay Davenport and No. 4 Maria Sharapova last met. The court was sky blue, not English green. But Sharapova, who won that last confrontation, was still on her game.

She stepped to the service line and began. Two controlled bounces of the ball, a slow centering of the racket and then her right foot stepped in beside her left for just an instant as her arm came forward for a fast, strong swing.

Sharapova served first and was on her way to a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Davenport last night in the 19th Mercantile Tennis Challenge at 1st Mariner Arena.

"It was a really good match and we both played really well," Sharapova said. "You always play more for the crowd in these kinds of matches, but if it's a competitive match like tonight it's more entertaining. And we played for a good cause."

An hour and a half before the match, men of all ages lined up around the tennis floor, snapping photos as Sharapova warmed up. But, when it came time to greet the players as they came onto the court, it was Davenport who got the standing ovation and the loudest applause.

Maybe it was because this was Davenport's fourth time here and she seemed like an old friend - and acted like one during the day. Accompanied by her mother, Davenport went to Harbor Place and did much of her Christmas shopping.

"It's always been fun coming to Baltimore," she said. "Now, I even know where to shop. And the crowd here is always so good and it's nice to play in a town where they don't have tennis regularly. When you play here, you sense this may be the only opportunity tennis fans have to see two top players."

Sharapova, 17, arrived late Thursday night, strolled around the Inner Harbor yesterday and watched a video of The O.C. at her hotel before arriving at the arena. She said that, win or lose, fan favorite or near favorite, she, too, was happy to be here.

"I'm thinking of starting my own foundation in the future," Sharapova said. "I can learn from this."

The evening was a great success for children's charities. Hall of Famer Pam Shriver, the event's founder, said last night's Challenge, attended by 8,606, and the charity auction that accompanied it, generated a check for $275,000.

"Last year, we had our greatest donation with a little over $300,000," said Shriver, who has seen her event raise $3.4 million in its previous 18 years. "But this is among the top handful we've ever had."

Shriver got more good news as Mercantile Bank and Trust has confirmed it will remain the sponsor of the event for another two years.

Last night, Sharapova broke Davenport just once in the first set, but that's all she needed, as her own serve was perfect.

In the second set, the situation was much the same, with each player holding serve until the eighth game, when Sharapova withstood several whipping Davenport forehands, and then hit her own forehand cross court for the break and a 5-3 lead.

She closed out the match on her next service game, finishing it 40-0 with a 103-mph ace.

"It was great," said Davenport of the tennis. "Obviously Maria is a great player but most of all it was for a great cause."

Davenport told the crowd she loves coming here and added, "I'll come back again some day."

Sharapova noted she had been part of the warm-up act for Andy Roddick last year and that a lot has happened since, "but I'm still in Baltimore and I hope to come for many more years to Baltimore."

In the Future Legends match, Phillip Simmonds and Scoville Jenkins played an energetic match, with Jenkins sprinting to a 3-0 lead in the single pro-set match and holding on for an 8-6 victory.

The match paired two 18-year-olds who starred on the junior circuit last season and turned pro this summer.

The personalities of both players came through, with playful laughs mixing with an intensity that was apparent with big serves and ground strokes. Jenkins is supposed to be the one with the huge serve, but Simmonds got off several that registered 137 mph on the speed gun and left him smiling.

"Hopefully, next year, I can win Wimbledon, just like Maria," said Jerkins, referring to Sharapova, who played in the Futures match last year and then won Wimbledon this past summer.

The Orioles Challenge Match was its usual entertaining encounter, with Sharapova and Jenkins teaming with former Oriole and now retired Brady Anderson, while Davenport and Simmonds teamed with current Oriole Larry Bigbie. The Sharapova/Jenkins/Anderson connection won, 3-2.

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