Sunday, December 9

L.A. brings a little bit of tinseltown to tournament


Unique matches bring sport, community together under limelight

By Adam Karon

Daily Bruin Contributor

The Angels and Dodgers usually command most of Southern
California’s attention during the summer, but this week it will
have to share the spotlight with men’s tennis as the City of
Angels hosts its only ATP tournament of the year.

The Mercedes-Benz Cup is unlike any other tournament on the
tour. It’s LA’s moment to shine, and Los Angeles is always up to
the challenge.

Even the glamorous Hollywood community is getting involved.
“A Night at the Net,” a celebrity doubles match in
which superstars Andre Agassi and Gustavo “Gaga”
Kuerten pair up with Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman and comedian
Dennis Miller to raise money for MusiCares, takes place Monday
night at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. It is the only
professional-celebrity match on the circuit.

“The thing that makes the Mercedes-Benz Cup stand out is
that the entertainment is awfully good,” tournament director
Bob Kramer said.

The tournament itself will raise money for the nonprofit
Southern California Tennis Association (SCTA).

Officials also hope to use the event to increase tennis
awareness in the Los Angeles community. Events like Seniors’ Day,
Kids’ Day and Ladies’ Day will help promote tennis in
Southern California, while UCLA Day and Bruin Family Night should
promote its popularity on the campus.

"We try to showcase tennis in Los Angeles," associate director
Khim Stithem said. “We’re just trying to reach out to
different segments of the community.”

The Pacific Southwest Tennis Tournament, as the Mercedes-Benz
Cup/Los Angeles Open was once known, started in 1926 and was held
at the Los Angeles Tennis Club in downtown L.A. until 1975.

From that year until 1979 Pauley Pavilion hosted the event. Then
in 1982 construction on the LATC, with the Los Angeles Open in
mind, started on an asphalt parking lot just west of Pauley
Pavilion.

The $7 million project was completed in 1984, just in time for
the LATC to host tennis as a demonstration sport in the Los Angeles
Olympics. Later that year it hosted its first Los Angeles Open.

From then until now the Los Angeles Open underwent several name
changes as the sponsor changed. From 1985-93 it was known as the
Volvo Open, from 1995-97 as the Infinity Open, and from 1998
throughout 2001 it will be known as the Mercedes-Benz Cup.

One thing that didn’t change, however, is the
tournament’s penchant for attracting star players.

“The is one of the most historical events on the ATP
tour,” Kramer said. “All the great champions over the
years have played and won here.”

The list of past tournament winners is lengthy and
distinguished. Recent winners include Andre Agassi, Jim Courier,
Michael Chang and last year’s champion, Pete Sampras, who
defeated Agassi in a thrilling finals match.

The tournament’s history is also filled with big name stars.
Jimmy Connors won the tournament four times, Roy Emerson three
times, and John McEnroe twice. Former UCLA star Arthur Ashe also
won the tournament in its first year held at UCLA in 1975 and again
in 1978.

Some stars expected to be at this year’s Mercedes-Benz Cup
include Agassi, Marcelo Rios, Thomas Enqvist, Goran Ianisevic and
former Bruin Justin Gimelstob.

Agassi, one of the world’s top players, was in a car
accident shortly after returning from Wimbledon, and his condition
is questionable. As of a week ago, however, he had a hotel room
booked in L.A. and still intended to play in the Cup.

Rios is the first South American ever to be ranked No. 1 on the
tour. In 1998 he won an ATP tour-best seven singles titles en route
to earning over $3 million in prize money. This will be his first
appearance in Los Angeles.

“He’s one of the most unpredictable, emotional
players on the circuit,” Kramer said.

UCLA’s own Justin Gimelstob (’96) should attract plenty of
fans to the courts. While at UCLA, he led the 1996 Bruins to the
NCAA finals against Stanford. That same year he earned the
individual doubles title and placed second in singles. And in 1997
he upset Agassi at the Los Angeles Open.

“When he beat Andre three years ago, he really won a lot
of fans over,” Kramer said.

Additionally, UCLA will benefit from the proceeds of the event.
Although the university does not charge rent for the use of the
LATC, the tournament is expected to gross $3 million and UCLA
should receive about $100,000 of the profits.

Fittingly, the money from the past four tournaments and the
expected revenue from the next three have paid and will pay for the
construction of the Arthur Ashe Health Center.

“It’s a wonderful relationship,” said former
assistant chancellor John Sandbrook, who oversaw the building of
the LATC and helped arrange the agreement. “We use the
profits for the benefit of the UCLA student body.”

This week some of the world’s top players will come to
UCLA and battle it out on the courts of the LATC for a
Mercedes-Benz championship. They’e coming for a title, for $1
million in prize money, and for a good time.

But it helps that L.A. is simply L.A.

“When you go to other places, Cincinatti or wherever,
sometimes that is not as enjoyable as the week in Los Angeles,"
Sandbrook said. "I think most people like the idea of spending a
week in Los Angeles."

And according to Kramer, it helps that UCLA is UCLA.

“It’s a tremendous advantage to be connected to the
campus,” he said. “All you have to do is say four
letters: U-C-L-A.”

With contributions by Pauline Vu, Daily Bruin Senior Staff

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