The new stars of tennis presided over the U.S. Open last week, but someone was missing. Steffi Graf, the woman who has 21 Grand Slams to her name and is three shy of the all-time record, wasn't playing, recovering instead from June knee surgery.
There had been speculation on whether Graf would return to tennis, but that seems to have been put to rest. Yesterday, in Baltimore, Pam Shriver announced that Graf will be the headliner for her annual charity event, the First Union/Signet Bank Tennis Challenge, Nov. 25 at 7 p.m., at Baltimore Arena.
"I saw Steffi at the Open and was delighted to find her excited about coming back to the tour," Shriver said. "She is such a superstar, and it's very special to be able to have her begin her comeback in Baltimore."
Graf, 28, is quite a catch. And as the tournament's honorary chairman, Billie Jean King, pointed out, she should be "itching" to play when she gets here.
"By the 25th of November, she probably won't be able to wait to play," said King, who came to Baltimore yesterday to help Shriver announce the field at a downtown luncheon, held on the rooftop tennis court of the Hyatt.
"I've had six knee operation, and I know you can come back," King said. "While you're out, you gain an appreciation for other aspects of your life, but at the same time, you gain more appreciation for the feelings you get when you're competing.
"She'll have a different perspective, knowing how lucky she is to return to this part of her life. And, I'm sure, after seeing all the young talent playing so well at the Open, she's inspired. Nothing challenges old players more than youth."
Chanda Rubin, 20 and a member of the youth movement, will be here to challenge Graf in the feature match. Also on the card is a Legends match featuring Zina Garrison and Fred Stolle against Shriver and Cliff Drysdale. In the celebrity match that will close out the evening, Orioles outfielders Brady Anderson and B.J. Surhoff will team with Graf and Rubin, respectively, in doubles.
King, who owns 50 percent of the Delaware Smash, the Team Tennis club whose season begins this week, sees a lot of the young players. Several, including Anna Kournikova and Lindsay Davenport, play for the Smash. And when King was captain of the 1996 Federation Cup and Olympic tennis teams, Rubin was a member of both.
"She's an exciting young player who has a high-risk game with a big forehand," King said. "She's right in there with Venus Williams, Mirjana Lucic and Kournikova. She's very smart and organized, and if she stays healthy, we're looking for her to carry the torch for the Fed Cup."
At the 1996 Australian Open, Rubin made history by outlasting Aranxta Sanchez Vicario in the longest quarterfinal match in that tournament's history. She followed that up with a three-set loss to Monica Seles, but won her first Grand Slam title playing with Sanchez Vicario in doubles.
Rubin soared into the Top 10 and made it as high as No. 6 in 1996 before being sidelined last October by wrist surgery. This spring, she won her first singles title in Linz, Austria.
Over the past 11 years, Shriver said the tournament has raised $1.75 million for local charities.
"In 1986, we were in Reitz Arena at Loyola College playing before 2,500," Shriver said. "It's amazing to see how far we've come. pTC We have Steffi, the only top women's player who has never competed here, and Chanda, one of my personal favorites. I think it's a very exciting lineup."
At a glance
Event: First Union/Signet Bank Tennis Challenge, presented by the Baltimore Sun.
What: Pam Shriver's 12th annual charity tennis tournament, proceeds from which go to the Baltimore Community Foundation to children's charities, including the Campaign For Our Children, Baltimore Tennis Patrons and the Northeast Community Partnership.
Where: Baltimore Arena
When: Nov. 25, 7 p.m.
Matches: Legends doubles -- Zina Garrison and Fred Stolle vs. Pam Shriver and Cliff Drysdale. Feature -- Steffi Graf vs. Chanda Rubin. Celebrity doubles -- Brady Anderson and Graf vs. B. J. Surhoff and Rubin.
Tickets: Range in price from $9 to $75. To purchase, call 410-481-SEAT, visit any Ticketmaster outlet or the Baltimore Arena box office. For information and to purchase VIP floor seats, call 410-296-2929.
Pub Date: 9/09/97