By Andy J. Gordon
The 2010 LA Tennis Open at UCLA had a new title sponsor in Farmers Insurance and, in addition to some exciting tennis, brought fun back to the event. Last year, with some financial struggles, the event eliminated the celebrity and pro charity exhibition that usually opens the tournament. This year’s special evening, the Farmers Classic “Stars Under the Stars,” saw the return of some legendary tennis talent and a couple of celebs who take their tennis quite seriously. The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education (www.agassifoundation.org/) was the beneficiary of the exhibition.
Agassi brought out some big guns for the fund raiser. John McEnroe took a break from the announcer’s booth to play singles against Agassi. The doubles exhibition featured retired legends Jim Courier and Michael Chang. All four retired players have won this tournament in the past and obviously enjoy playing in Los Angeles. The participating celebs were Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of the newly reunited band Bush, and comedian/actor Jon Lovitz, both LA area residents. In attendance for the fun evening were Tommy Haas, who is injured and taking some time off from the pro tour, and his pregnant girlfriend, actress Sara Foster. Also watching the action was pro Vince Spadea. Pam Shriver, the former pro and current announcer/analyst officiated the light-hearted doubles match. When asked why Agassi chose Los Angeles to participate in a fund raiser, he said that Bob Kramer, the tournament director, has always been a big supporter of his, both on and off the court. McEnroe said that he is a big supporter of the charity work that Agassi has done over the years, and was glad to come out and help raise funds for the kids.
The doubles exhibition featured the serious Rossdale teamed with the quiet Chang, versus the goof ball antics of Lovitz, and the chatty Courier. The ex-pros were clearly taking it easy and keeping things entertaining, but Rossdale, a player with good skills, played like it was a real match. Lovitz, on the other hand, took full advantage of being miked, delivering one liners, and self deprecating comments throughout the exhibition. After one point where Lovitz let a relatively easy groundstroke go past him through the middle of the court for a winner, Shriver said, “real doubles players cover the middle.” Lovitz responded by saying, “real doubles players are thinner.” The match ended on a Lovitz double fault, but the crowd enjoyed both the humor and the show.
The more serious singles exhibition between Agassi and McEnroe followed. Agassi, who only five years ago played Roger Federer in the US Open finals, still has major skills. McEnroe, who still plays often, competes in World Team Tennis, and occasionally in Courier’s senior tour. He still has formidable skills, but not nearly the athleticism or speed of Agassi. The first set was very close and entertaining, but Agassi won 6-4. McEnroe displayed some of his classic sourpuss antics throughout. He banged his racket into the court after errors, complained about line calls, and thought the Hawkeye electronic replay system was defective. After hanging tough through the first set, Mac seemed to run out of gas, and Agassi ran away with the second set, winning 6-2.
The audience thoroughly enjoyed the chilly, entertaining evening of tennis. Agassi and a few of the kids that attended his Foundation’s school in Las Vegas accepted a check for $200,000 from the real estate firm Grubb & Ellis, who sponsored the evening. All funds raised for the Foundation will go toward children’s education, something that Agassi stresses. It was a great way to kick off the tournament. Information about the event can be found at www.LATennisOpen.com or by calling 310-824-1010.
Photos courtesy of David Burrows.