Kournikova on court and catwalk in Dublin
From Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent in Madrid
SERENA and Venus Williams, the best players in the world, and Anna Kournikova and Daniela Hantuchova, the two most attractive, will lead a galaxy of stars who have agreed to appear in an exhilarating, ground-breaking charity event in Ireland in December when the magic of the Ryder Cup comes to women’s tennis.
A formal announcement is scheduled for today that Europe v United States tennis-style will be staged at the Royal Dublin Society Show Grounds as the focal point of a promotion encompassing a mouthwatering fashion show — in which Kournikova, of Russia, and Hantuchova, from Slovakia, have agreed to appear — and a couple of concerts, expected to figure acts of the renowned quality of The Corrs and Kylie Minogue.
All proceeds from the event, named “The Trilogy” to celebrate the three-pronged attractions of tennis, fashion and music, are to go to the Chernobyl Children’s Project to aid victims of the nuclear explosion in 1986.
The calibre of the line-up is a remarkable coup for the promoters, Propriety Management, the sporting pedigree of whose managing director, Sean Collins, includes his acceptance for a number of tennis scholarships, one at the famed Nick Bolletieri Academy in Florida, where his peers included Marcelo Rios, the former world No 1, Mark Philippoussis, Tommy Haas and Xavier Malisse. As a reward for his entrepreneurial spirit, the trophy for the championship will be called, hardly surprisingly, the Collins Cup.
That the promoters have been able to entice such a phalanx of the sport’s leading figures is nothing short of miraculous. The Williams sisters have long said that they would like to visit Ireland one day, but they had in mind spending time on a private vacation.
None of the players in the field has been to Ireland and their presence is certain to attract sell-out crowds and resplendent publicity.
The sisters are taking a break and have in their sights a return for the Sanex WTA championships, to be staged at the Staples Centre in Los Angeles next month. After that, they head to Dublin.
Their allure is only the start. The line-up for the Collins Cup will also include Lindsay Davenport, the former Wimbledon champion, Jennifer Capriati, the former French and present Australian Open champion, and Monica Seles, a long-time world No 1. Hantuchova, who is at a career-high No 9 in the world, and Kournikova are backed in the European team by Iva Majoli, the 1997 French Open champion, Jelena Dokic, from Yugoslavia, and Barbara Schett, of Austria.
The Cup will be staged from December 5-7, with two singles on Thursday, two doubles on Friday and three singles on Saturday. The highlight would seem to be the doubles between the Williams sisters and Hantuchova and Dokic.
It is a format that, in golf, has stood the test of time with the Ryder Cup and women’s Solheim Cup and to bring the blueprint to tennis is a masterstroke. To have signed up so many famous faces, doubly so.
That Kournikova and Hantuchova have agreed to appear on the catwalk with a selection of the world’s most recognisable supermodels is an imaginative way of whetting the appetite for an event that is, I understand, already the subject of a fierce duel for the TV rights.
Collins, who represented Ireland at junior and senior level, is not the only man on the organising committee to have tennis roots. Ulli Nganga, a former pupil at the LTA’s school at Bisham Abbey, is the head of publicity. Nganga was ranked ninth in the UK in the early 1990s, his highest world ranking being No 390. He was a regular practice partner for John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. Now, he has moved into company that is just as powerful.
As it stands, the order of play for the inaugural Collins Cup is:
Thurs, Dec 5: Davenport v Schett; Seles v Kournikova. Fri, Dec 6: Seles and Davenport v Schett and Majoli; S and V Williams v Hantuchova and Dokic. Sat, Dec 7: S Williams v Majoli; V Williams v Dokic; Capriati v Hantuchova.