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Pierce, Sanchez Vicario serve up tough tennis 'Challenge' brings lots of laughs, too


When Ilie Nastase hit a sweet little cross-court winner out of the reach of Tracy Austin, who will have her first child this spring, he jiggled his belly and laughed.

"Six months," he said.

It was the beginning of a lively exchange in the Signet Bank Tennis Challenge's mixed doubles legend match.

But the exchange that followed on the Baltimore Arena court last night was livelier still. It was an match between Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Mary Pierce, but no one could tell it was an exhibition based on the level of tennis displayed.

Sanchez Vicario put aside the jet lag that was making dark circles under her eyes and Pierce forgot all about using this as a practice match.

They each did what they do best, and the result was a series of wonderful rallies that stretched each to her limit.

Pierce eventually won, 7-5, 6-3.

Sanchez Vicario had played the night before in Spain, flown here on the Concorde and then simply forgot that when this match started; it was 3 a.m. her time.

She rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the first set, but her deep cross-court forehands came up short, 7-5.

In the second set, when Pierce began to let up just a little, Todd Wittmer, a fan from Annapolis who was sitting behind the baseline, got in the act.

"Nick [Bollettieri] would have made you run for that ball," Wittmer yelled after she gave up on a shot.

When she made the next shot, he yelled, "Great shot."

Pierce responded by giving him her racket and inviting him onto the court. Sanchez Vicario responded in kind, handing her racket to Nastase, who had been watching.

"I've always been her fan," said Wittmer, who served to Nastase and then got a hug from Pierce, the world's No. 4 player.

After the women's battle, Pierce teamed up with the Orioles' Brady Anderson against No. 2-ranked Sanchez Vicario and Cal Ripken. The four of them stole the show.

Anderson, obviously a fan of Andre Agassi's, appeared in a baggy black T-shirt, knee-length white shorts and zebra-striped tennis shoes, and demonstrated how not to serve.

Ripken, who pointed out he was the veteran here because he was appearing in this tournament for the third time, gave a wonderful demonstration of how well a shortstop can hit spinning backhands at the net.

Pierce and Sanchez Vicario tried to stay out of their way, but at one point, Sanchez Vicario was moving all over the court, and Ripken, on a strange field of play, yelled, "Where do I go?"

Pam Shriver, the originator of this tournament and the emcee for this match, responded, "Anywhere you want."

Sanchez Vicario said before the match that she was "very excited" to meet Ripken, but in the end, it was Ripken who let the "tension" get to him as he laughed his way to three double faults on match points and handed the less-than-traditional match to Pierce and Anderson, who won in a tiebreaker, 11-9.

"I didn't know who Brady was before I got here," said Pierce. "Don't tell him that. I just don't follow baseball too much. But he played really good."

Did she know who Ripken was?

"Who?" said Pierce, laughing. "Everyone knows who he is."

Last night, Ripken said he tried just as hard as he does every day in baseball.

"But I've now figured out why they saved us for last," Ripken said. "They wanted everyone to go home laughing."

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