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Fans Court Tennis Royalty
Fed Cup event brings out Williams sisters and many admirers
By TOM SPOTH, Sun Staff
April 26 2003
Lowell SUN

LOWELL Venus Williams had never heard of Lowell before this weekend, but she has already put her personal stamp on the city's name.

"Venus says Lowell very musically she calls it 'Low-ELL,'" said Williams' U.S. Fed Cup teammate, Alexandra Stevenson, pronouncing the second syllable with an aristocratic flourish.

Although coach Billie Jean King's grandmother was born here, none of the four U.S. players were familiar with the Mill City. But as Mayor Rita Mercier said yesterday, that will soon change if Lowell continues to draw big-time events like the prestigious tennis tournament, which starts today at the Tsongas Arena.

"I couldn't think of a better way to put Lowell on the map," Mercier said.

About 100 local tennis fans flocked to the Lowell Memorial Auditorium at noon yesterday, hoping to see the players the Williams sisters in particular in the flesh.

The event's official purpose was to determine matchups for today and tomorrow, when the U.S. will face off against the Czech Republic. But starstruck residents were there for only one reason.

"I wanted to come see the Williams sisters," said Kelsey Richards, 13, of Tewksbury as she waited for the event's doors to open. "I'm a big fan."

"The girls are anxious to see some of the best female athletes in the world," said Patty Talty of Lowell, as she watched her three nieces bombard the auditorium's steps with tennis balls. "It's not every day they come to your hometown."

Shelagh, Shannon and Meghan Sullivan said they hoped to get the now-battered balls autographed.

Erika Rondeau, 5, of Lowell, decked out in a pink warmup suit with matching sunglasses and visor, was also hoping to score some ink.

"I want them to sign my racket," she said shyly, hiding behind her father.

"She loves the Williams sisters," Bruce Rondeau explained.

Serena and Venus Williams ranked first and third in the world, respectively got a huge reaction from the audience, as did King. Stevenson and Meghann Shaughnessy will also represent the United States.

"We're going to see some very fine tennis," said Alan Schwartz, chairman of the board of the United States Tennis Association, who also had kind words for Lowell.

"You can be very proud of how you've redeveloped your city, and the enthusiasm with which you've supported us," Schwartz said.

Venus Williams said that representing the United States this weekend will spur her to elevate her game. "You feel more motivated, not just for your team, but for the whole country," she said.

"It's an awesome experience for me," Stevenson agreed. "I'm really excited to be here."

Mercier was excited as well.

"This is a grand event that's going to take place," she exclaimed. "This is a remarkable event for the city of Lowell a real feather in the cap."

"I love it," agreed Steve Beauvais of Dracut. "It's pretty exciting getting all five U.S. top seeds in the same building at the same time especially right here in Lowell."

The U.S. vs. Czech Republic Fed Cup match begins at 1 p.m. today when Venus Williams takes on Daja Bedanova, followed by Serena Williams against Iveta Benesova. The sisters will swap opponents for tomorrow's competition.

The Williams sisters will take on Klara Koukalova and Eva Birnerova in doubles competition tomorrow.

Tom Spoth's e-mail address is [email protected]
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