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Marcell
Sep 8th, 2008, 03:14 PM
S. Williams to play in Baltimore tournament
Shriver devotes 23 years, brings top names to hometown classic

By Don Markus

As a promising 12-year-old, Serena Williams tagged along with her big sister Venus for Pam Shriver's annual charity tennis tournament in Baltimore in 1993 to play doubles against a pair of brothers, Cal and Bill Ripken.

At the time, the buzz about the Williams sisters was barely noticeable except for a piece on 60 Minutes about the tennis phenoms from Compton, Calif., and their controversial father, Richard Williams.

"They were kind of playing some charity exhibition events; they weren't playing in tournaments," Shriver recalled last week. "As it turns out, Richard was choreographing one of the great stories in sports history. We didn't have to do much to have them to come."

This year, the younger of the now-famous Williams sisters will be coming back to Shriver's tournament as the headliner.

Shriver will announce today that Serena Williams will be playing in this year's PNC Tennis Classic, at 1stMariner Arena on Nov.21. The rest of the field will be announced later.

"We are thrilled that Serena has made playing in Baltimore part of her year-end plans," Shriver said in a statement. "To be showcasing the talents of one of the greatest tennis players of all time is like a dream come true."

The event, which has raised more than $4million for charity, is going into its 23rd year and remains important to Shriver, who grew up in Baltimore and went on to be one of the top female players in the world in a nearly 20-year career.

"With all the changes in my life, not having my regular base in Baltimore, three kids 4 and under, it's been one of the constants in my life over the past 23 years," said Shriver, who now lives in Los Angeles. "It's important to me from a position of being a stakeholder in this community. ... It's taken the right mix of charities, title sponsors."

It has also taken a steady diet of big-name players. Shriver, as a result of her popularity and success while playing on the women's tour, has attracted some of the biggest stars in the sport, including former doubles partner Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Monica Seles and Andy Roddick.

The year the Williams sisters first came, Jimmy Connors played Jim Courier in the main event. Shriver recalled hosting the Williams sisters at her home in Lutherville the weekend before the 1993 event and practicing with them at Greenspring Tennis Club.

Though Venus Williams was getting most of the attention at the time, Serena's talent showed.

"I couldn't believe how hard she hit the ball," Shriver said. "We were playing on the indoor court. I could remember a couple of balls hitting the back screen on the fly, thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, you'd better learn to control this a bit.'"

Serena Williams has gone on to win 32singles titles and nine major championships, most recently the U.S. Open final last night in New York. She also recently won her second Olympic gold medal, teaming with her sister to win in Beijing.

"Serena is an icon on and off the court that transcends the world of sports," Shriver said of the former No.1-ranked player. "The fans of Baltimore should expect a great show, and hosting the event on a Friday night will only help to enhance the excitement."