Rackets raised, charity served



Before the matches began last night at Pam Shriver's 20th anniversary Mercantile Tennis Challenge, there was a difference of opinion among the four former world No. 1 players assembled at 1st Mariner Arena on how the games would be played.

"For fun," said the Martinas, Navratilova and Hingis, who exhibited little humor in the set won by Hingis, 8-4.

"Is there such a thing as an exhibition with John McEnroe?" said Jim Courier, who endured through McEnroe's antics in an 8-6 victory.

"There is such a thing," McEnroe said. "But pride and desire to compete always come into play. I want to show people I can still play good tennis and give a younger guy a run for his money."

McEnroe and Courier had just played a four-day tournament in the Champions Cup senior tour in Houston last week -Courier won the title and McEnroe took the consolation match for third place - and were worried about their recovery time.

But if they were struggling, few in the crowd noticed, as entertainment was the main ingredient in this exhibition, as it had been in the previous 19 that raised more than $3.7 million for various children's charities.

Last night's crowd of 7,352 increased the total to more than $4 million.

In the night's first match, McEnroe and Navratilova teamed for the first time and beat Courier and Hingis, 7-2, in a tiebreak after the four had battled to a 5-5 tie.

Then Hingis and Navratilova played their "fun" match. In it, Navratilova was driven to yell, "Geezy-peezy!" when her backhand flew wide while being broken in the fifth game.

But Hingis, even when Navratilova produced three break-point chances in the final game, said nothing. She just smiled, a circumstance that had caused Courier to turn to the crowd in wonder during the mixed doubles and say, "The girl loses the point and all she does is smile!"

After winning her match against Navratilova, Hingis was still smiling.

"This is an exhibition, not a pro match," she said. "And I was playing a legend. You want to do well, but there was not much to lose here."

And then she added, "But it feels even better to win."

After McEnroe had suffered his loss to Courier, he congratulated Shriver on raising $4 million.

Then he said, "I think $3 million went to the children and a million to the Hall of Fame to get that banner up there," pointing to Shriver's Hall of Fame banner in the rafters.

When he was booed, McEnroe laughed and said, "Hey, have a sense of humor. I just got [bad calls] six times - and the guy's younger than me."

It wasn't until match point of the Orioles Challenge match in which he paired with Melvin Mora that McEnroe said what everyone had been waiting for.

When Shriver called his serve wide, McEnroe yelled, "You can't be serious!"

"I am serious," Shriver shot back, and McEnroe meekly repeated his serve.

It was a night of glittering stars who dressed as if they were your next-door neighbors. The men wore baggy pants and loose fitting shirts, and McEnroe changed to clam diggers for his singles match.

Navratilova wore a form-fitting, dark green T-shirt and black shorts that showed off her gym work, and Hingis dressed in a traditional orange tennis skirt and top, appropriate for any court.

They had assembled on the royal blue court in Baltimore to give back to the game they love. Why? Because Shriver - who surprised the crowd by showing up to claim her usual seat in the umpire's chair for the Orioles Challenge - had asked them to.

Shriver had not been expected to attend, having given birth to premature twins Sept. 28 in Los Angeles.

The twins - Samuel Robert and Kaitlin Elizabeth Lazenby - are still in the hospital but are doing well. So Shriver and her son, Georgie, made the trip to Baltimore to visit with her parents and be on hand for the event she has never missed.


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