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Courier serves up Evert, Kournikova
By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published March 14, 2006
After landing Andy Roddick in 2004 and Andre Agassi last year, it would have been understandable if the Mercedes-Benz Classic took a step back in 2006.
But it appears that won't be the case.
This year's event, to be held April 5 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, will feature Dade City native Jim Courier , John McEnroe , Chris Evert and Anna Kournikova , which might give it enough drawing power to top its predecessors. Credit Courier, whose off-court venture Inside-Out Sports & Entertainment is producing the event, for landing such big-name talent.
"It has to do with the respect these players have for him," said St. Pete Times Forum spokesman Bill Wickett . "They do it because Jim is asking them to."
Just who is Courier's biggest get?
That's up for debate, but what makes this event arguably more compelling than past classics is its broad appeal. There's truly something for everybody.
Evert owns the most majors of anyone in the group and was a top draw for two decades. McEnroe, who arguably has the game's most compelling personality, was beloved by some, hated by others and watched by all. And don't forget about Kournikova, who despite never-ending criticism that she failed to meet her potential, has the type of star quality that transcends the game, largely because of her off-the-chart good looks.
As usual, proceeds, which in the past have exceeded $300,000, will benefit the Raymond James Courier's Kids Foundation, which sponsors the First Serve program at the St. Petersburg Tennis Center. Ticket prices range from $21.75 to $96.75. For information, go to stpetetimesforum.com.
Last year's event drew an announced 10,104.
NOT TOO IMPRESSED: It didn't take long for the recently unretired Martina Hingis , never one to keep thoughts to herself, to speak her mind about the state of the women's game. Turns out Hingis, who has a home in Wesley Chapel, isn't all that overwhelmed with the competition.
"If all the girls were able to play like the Williamses, I would not have asked myself if I could play again, but they aren't," she told reporters this week in Indian Wells, Calif. "The girls' game has not taken such a big jump forward. Most girls don't have time (to prepare) on the court. And there are a lot of technical deficiencies."
Since her return in January, Hingis has won $327,081. She's already ranked No. 32.
ODDS AND ENDS: The World TeamTennis player draft is March 28 in Miami. The player everyone wants? Could be that guy Pete Sampras , the 14-time major champion who recently committed to the league, which features gender-balanced teams comprised of two men, two women and a coach. ... HBO Sports will premiere Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer , which it calls "an illuminating documentary exploring the personal and professional life of the landmark athlete and activist, whose remarkable career on the tennis court was equaled only by her impact on the struggle for women's equality during the 1970s," on April 26. ... The U.S.-Chile Davis Cup quarterfinal in April at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., will be just the fourth home bout on grass for the U.S. team since 1959. The Americans went 2-1 in the previous three.
LAST WORD: "When I saw that, I couldn't believe it. I would love for Wimbledon to (buy them). I don't care who buys them, whether it's $500,000, $5-million or $50-million, that's got Borg's name on that trophy. What are you going to do with that trophy? Use it as an ashtray?" - Jimmy Connors upon hearing of old rival Bjorn Borg 's plan to sell his Wimbledon trophies.