Tennis fans here saw great show because players took it seriously


Reading time, two minutes: To the 11,035 who were on hand for the First National Bank Tennis Festival last night: That's about as good as it gets, folks, the 7-6, 6-4 victory Jennifer Capriati scored over Martina Navratilova at the Baltimore Arena.

The way it works out, exhibition matches often produce top-of-the-line tennis as relaxed players hammer away at their shots for winners without money and computer points to cloud the issue. When two people go to 9-7 in a tie-breaker, as the women did, there's absolutely no doubt they had more on their minds than simply entertaining the masses.

The excellent turnout for Pam Shriver's Supreme Court Soiree boosted to over $1 million the monies raised for charity (Cystic Fibrosis, Children's Hospital, etc.) over the years.

* A fan reminiscing about the closing of Memorial Stadium to baseball on the Oriole videotape "The Final Weekend" cites Hoyt Wilhelm's no-hitter in 1958 as the first game he ever witnessed. It reminds of a story ex-player and manager Dick Williams tells about that September day: "I started at third base and through seven innings didn't have a play. Then they put some kid in at third and I moved to leftfield. The guy had three tough plays in the eighth and ninth I wouldn't have made and Hoyt had his no-hitter." Oh, the kid was Brooks Robinson.

* Sixth-rated Penn State is a solid 15-point favorite over Pitt in an ABC game tomorrow (11 a.m.), but, of course, Joe Paterno isn't buying it. The Nittany Lions coach says he has come to expect the unexpected, the unusual, the bizarre ever since he sat in on the rivalry for the first time in 1950.

"They had a blizzard dumping about two feet of snow on the city the night before and we were staying in an old hotel right across the street from the campus," he recalls of his graduate assistant coaching days. "We were holed up until Monday when the National Guard came in and was able to deliver us to the train station for the ride home to State College.

"We went down the next week to play and, because they didn't have enough money to clear both fields [Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium], we played at Forbes on Saturday and the Steelers had a game there the next day. We won, 21-20, after being down at the half, 20-7. Reason we won is the kicker for Pitt missed and it was the only point-after he missed all season."

Joining Pitt and Penn State on the tube tomorrow are Texas-Texas A&M; with Nebraska-Oklahoma going Friday and Georgia Tech-Georgia, Florida State-Florida and Alabama-Auburn Saturday. Tell me, on paper, these aren't more appealing matchups than 90 percent of the bowls to follow.

* For years, fight writers have written with conviction about a guy having a "puncher's chance" while discussing an apparently one-sided bout coming up. At long last it happened in the Evander Holyfield-Bert Cooper fight the other night when huge underdog Cooper nearly took the heavyweight champ out with a couple of haymakers to the whiskers in the third round.

So what was the reaction after years of promoting the puncher's-chance theory? The nicest things said about Holyfield, who registered a seventh-round TKO, is he's a cheese champ with no chin, an ordinary punch and he probably fudges on his income taxes, too.

Mike Tyson, many are screaming, will make mincemeat of Evander if and when . . . as if the two men didn't fight Buster Douglas with vastly different results in the recent past.

* The men, and it's about time, figure to carry the show at the NutraSweet World Professional Figure Skating Championships at the Cap Centre Dec. 6. The likes of Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton, Robin Cousins and Brian Orser are lined up to do battle. The women's cast includes Debi Thomas, Rosalynn Sumners, Denise Bielmann and Caryn Kadavy with Katarina Witt off working for a competing group. The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are $22.50 and $35 at (202) 432-0200 or TicketCenter.

* Some devout and perceptive NBA fans have probably noted that Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson and Greg Anthony, all UNLV products, chose the uniform number 2 as they start their pro careers. It's to honor their college coach, Jerry Tarkanian, who wore the number in college (Fresno State) back in the dark (gym) ages. I was thinking maybe it was for the second straight NCAA title everyone (but Duke) conceded them last season.

* Irony or ironies: The celebration for its perfect 11-0 season (and 20-game winning streak) was in mid-tumult at Holy Cross when someone reminded that that very date constituted the 42nd anniversary of the Crusaders' 76-0 defeat at the hands of arch-rival Boston College.

* Yikes! Besides the usual all-star game ballots, which are passed out in the rinks, the NHL and Upper Deck (collector cards) have gone to a 900 number to aid hockey fans in stuffing the ballot box for the game Jan. 18 in Philadelphia. What the heck, when you don't have a big TV contract, you have to search out a couple of bucks anywhere they can be found.

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