Vaught's Views: Tennis fans shouldn't miss Nov. 21 exhibition

September 13, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

If you have ever played tennis, or thought of playing tennis, you know the game is much more difficult than it appears.

But the way most people play tennis is nothing like the way the top players in the world play. Their speed, power and athleticism is something one cannot fully appreciate by watching on television.

That's why central Kentuckians have a rare opportunity Nov. 21 to watch two of the world's best players - sisters Venus and Serena Williams - as well as one of the world's best known players - Anna Kournikova - in Lexington's Rupp Arena.

It's the equivalent, for a golfer, of having Tiger Woods come to Danville Country Club or Jeff Gordon visit Ponderosa Speedway for a NASCAR fan. It would be like having Peyton Manning conduct a passing clinic at Centre College for a NFL fan or Barry Bonds putting on a hitting exhibition at Millennium Park for a baseball fan.


The Lexus Tennis Challenge, which benefits the OWL Foundation and the Tubby Smith Foundation, is going to give local tennis fans a chance they may never have again.

Tickets, priced from $20 to $75, went on sale today at Ticketmaster locations, the Rupp Arena box office or by telephone at 859-281-6644 or 859-233-3535. If you are interested in a courtside box or an invitation to the Night OWL Party, call 859-335-8361, extension 111.

Lexus brought Andy Roddick, one of the world's top singles players, along with James Blake and brothers Bob and Mike Bryan to Rupp Arena last year. That event was such a success that it had to make it easier to convince Serena and Venus Williams to come this year. However, Kentucky basketball coach Tubby Smith also gets a big assist for this unique exhibition.

"We are thrilled to be coming to Kentucky to work with the Tubby Smith Foundation," Venus Williams said in a release. "We understand that his foundation supports the same goals as the OWL Foundation."

The OWL Foundation was started by Oracene Price, mother of Venus and Serena Williams, and funds programs to address the learning needs of academically at-risk youth.

Smith thrilled with Williams' charitable efforts

Smith took a few shots from Roddick last year. While he might be convinced to try that again, he's more thrilled to help the Williams' charitable efforts.

"I have been a tremendous fan of the Williams sisters since they burst onto the tennis scene, so this is a terrific opportunity to be involved with their charity here in the Lexington community," Smith said.

Venus Williams will play Kournikova, who is known as much for her looks as her tennis, in singles, followed by a doubles match with Serena Williams and an additional WTA Tour player to be named later.

But no matter who the final player is, this is an opportunity of a lifetime for area tennis fans, much like having the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club is for golf fans.

Venus and Serena Williams have both held the world No. 1 ranking and have won a combined nine Grand Slam titles. Questionable calls in recent major championships have kept both from winning a Grand Slam title this year.

The 23-year-old Kournikova is credited with paving the way for top Russian female athletes to impact the international tennis stage. Svetlana Kuznetsova overwhelmed Elena Dementieva 6-3, 7-5 Saturday night to win the U.S. Open in the first all-Russian Grand Slam final. Earlier this year Anastasia Myskina beat Dementieva in the French Open final, and Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon. Russians occupy half of the top 10 spots in the rankings.

Kournikova's game was never quite that good, but the way she burst on the scene and became a worldwide celebrity obviously motivated other Russian players.

Plus, with the way Serena Williams designs her own clothes, it could turn into a stylish battle between her and Kournikova as well as a chance to see some of the world's best players play in person.

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