Call it a battle of the unknowns. The Ripken brothers had never heard of the Williams sisters before they met in last night's First National Bank Tennis Festival at the Baltimore Arena.
Then again, the Williams sisters had never heard of the Ripken brothers.
"I don't follow baseball," said Venus Williams, 13.
"There was an article in the newspaper a couple of days ago, so I read up on them," said Cal Ripken.
In an event that was to benefit eight local children's charities, the Ripken brothers received some, too, from Venus Williams and her 12-year-old sister, Serena.
Though the California girls toned down their games against the famous pair of celebrity hackers from Aberdeen, it was such a mismatch that the event's founder, Pam Shriver, needed to switch teams midway through their six-game pro set.
After the Williams sisters had won 12 of the first 13 points -- only an ace by Cal Ripken prevented the shutout -- Shriver put Cal and Serena against Bill and Venus. Shriver, who acted as chair umpire and comedian, spotted the younger Ripken and older Williams a 3-0 lead, but the older Ripken and younger Williams came back to win in a tiebreaker.
"I thought they took it easy on us," Cal Ripken said of the Williamses. "They showed how hard they hit the ball."
The Ripkens showed that they handle ground balls a lot better than ground strokes.
If Bill Ripken is considered all field and no hit in baseball, then the reverse is true in tennis. (There is no truth to the rumor that the Williams sisters had a batting contest with the Ripken brothers at Camden Yards yesterday).
Asked to describe his game, Bill Ripken said: "Terrible. I don't play tennis."
Speaking of hard hitters, Jim Courier also played at the Arena last night.
The world's No. 2 men's player said before his match with Jimmy Connors that he was finished playing -- for the year -- and then went out and blasted Connors, 6-2, 6-2.
Connors didn't look 41, but he didn't look 23, either. The difference in age, and velocity, was as apparent as in most of their recent matches, as Courier dominated the five-time U.S. Open champion. It probably didn't help that Connors flew in on a red-eye yesterday morning.
Connors spent most of the match cracking jokes, while Courier was busy cracking forehands.
Connors had some chances early to make it competitive but was reduced to one-liners.
At one point, after another Courier shot whizzed by his racket, Connors joked, "You don't know what it is costing me to bring him with me."
But it didn't matter to the crowd of 8,000 or to Shriver.
"I've never heard them as enthusiastic as they were tonight," Shriver said before joining Courier against Connors and Venus Williams. "I think of all the top players in the world, Jimmy brings the crowd into the match. Courier went along with it, too. But he's too young and too strong."
Sort of like those Williams girls from California were from those Ripken boys from Aberdeen.
NOTES: Shriver said that the event would raise another $175,000 this year, bringing the eight-year total to $1.4 million. Asked about next year's festival, Shriver said she would like to bring in longtime doubles partner Martina Navratilova, who has announced that next year would probably be her last as a singles player, as well as Steffi Graf, the only top women's player who has not played in the event.