09
Dec
09

WTT Smash Hits raise a bundle for Aids charities.

They laid down a DecoTurf court on the floor of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, rolled out waves of racquet-wielding star power and transformed the Deaf Dome into a tennis fan’s fantasy.

On one end of LSU’s basketball arena, Billie Jean King watched Andy Roddick produce laser-beam serves and Lindsay Davenport, a three-time Grand Slam singles champ, chase Serena Williams backhands.

On the other, Sir Elton John, who generally rocks such venues from a piano bench, coached a team that included Anna Kournikova and Williams, the world’s No. 1 female player.

Welcome to the 17th World TeamTennis Smash Hits, Tuesday night’s fundraiser to benefit the Elton John AIDs foundation and various AIDs charities in the Baton Rouge area.

“Just being around these guys,” said NCAA singles champion Devin Britton, a former Ole Miss star who turned pro this summer, “it’s been fun for me.”

The PMAC has seen its share of big names, no doubt. But the likes of Pete Maravich, Bob Pettit and Shaquille O’Neal, whose numbers hang from the arena’s rafters, never volleyed and served.

Presented by the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation and hosted by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, Smash Hits gave the community’s tennis junkies the chance of a lifetime.

Roddick and the others entertained the crowd of 4,317 with humor as much as skill. Especially Roddick, who wore a white cap backward and smiled most of the night.

“You think you can boss me around?” Roddick snarled, jokingly, when doubles partner Kournikova gave him some ribbing during a celebrity doubles match to begin the event.

But it wasn’t all good fun and good tennis.

Smash Hits entered its 17th year looking to build on the more than $9 million it has raised for the Elton John AIDs Foundation and various AIDs charities in host cities. Its first appearance in Louisiana came in part because Baton Rouge and New Orleans have some of the nation’s highest rates of reported AIDs cases.

The event raised $640,000, the most since 2005 in Hershey, Pa. More than $200,000 will go to local AIDs charities.

“I knew when I was 12 that I wanted to make a difference,” said King, one of the most influential sports figures of her time. “Tennis ended up being my platform.”

King’s ties to Smash Hits go through John, whose friendship with King dates to her “Battle of the Sexes” breakthrough.

In the 1970s, John wrote “Philadelphia Freedom” for King.

Partners in Smash Hits since 1993, the two became rivals — they do so once a year — when their teams stepped onto the DecoTurf court for Tuesday’s main event.

Team Elton: Jan-Michael Gambill, Tommy Haas, Kournikova and Williams.

Team Billie Jean: Roddick, Britton, Davenport, Liezel Huber and Chanda Rubin, a Lafayette native once ranked sixth in the world.

And though it’s all in good fun, John, who wore an LSU tennis shirt, and King had a score to settle: each star coached the winning team eight times in 16 previous Smash Hits meetings.

“If we win,” King said before the match, “I can give Elton a bad time the next 365 days. I love to give him a bad time.”

Team Elton won 5-4, 1-5, 5-2 in a modified WTT format to give his team a 9-8 series advantage.

But Tuesday, John and King provided a good time. For a good cause.

They transformed a basketball arena into a playground, a talent show and a fundraising venue.

“Thank you Baton Rouge,” John said into a microphone during a break in play. “Thank you so much.”

Courtesy   Scott Howard  The Advocate

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