Professional tennis made a triumphant return to Los Angeles on Monday night, with the first LA Tennis Challenge featuring world number one Novak Djokovic, Olympic silver medalist Mardy Fish, 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras, the most successful doubles team of all-time the Bryan Brothers, former world number two Tommy Haas, and former world number four James Blake. The event was orchestrated and co-hosted by good friends Fish and ATP World Tour Board member and Tennis Channel broadcaster Justin Gimelstob. Their goal of proving that professional tennis is alive and well in Los Angeles was validated in all ways, and guarantees that Los Angeles will remain a hotbed for one of the most popular sports in the world.
“We showed on Monday night that professional tennis can thrive in Los Angeles with the right formula of high caliber competition and entertainment value,” Gimelstob said. “Mardy and I are so appreciative of all the players support in this initial event, and their commitment to giving back and preserving tennis in the second biggest media market in the United States. The energy in Pauley Pavilion was incredible and we can’t wait to build on this in 2014!”
More than 8,500 fans enjoyed the evening’s festivities, which included the Kolo dance group from St. Sava Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, which performed as Djokovic was escorted onto the court.
Celebrities in attendance included Bruce Willis, Jodie Foster, Rainn Wilson, Dr. Phil, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Ali Larter, Kaley Cuoco, Timothy Olyphant, Ryan kwanten, Julie Kavner, Gerard Butler, Evan Handler, Paul Ben Victor, Greg Germann, Boris Kodjoe, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, and Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. All three matches were close with all ending in tiebreakers as Tommy Haas bested James Blake in the first match, Djokovic squeaked Fish and the Bryan twins beat Djokovic and Sampras in the finale.
“Tonight was a big test for sure to see where I was in a setting with a lot of people," Fish told a group of reporters from a massage table as a therapist stretched him out after the match. "It didn't feel like a U.S. Open match, but it did feel like a lot of people and friends were there. To come through felt pretty good, but I don't feel 100 percent."
"I haven't played in four months. I didn't want to embarrass myself. I actually played OK," said Sampras. “It was a fun evening, and it was great to spend some time with Novak and get to know him better. I have so much respect for what he is doing on and off court right now, and it is huge for tennis in Los Angeles that he supported the event.”
Before the final doubles match, longtime and respected Southern California Tennis Association Executive Director Henry Talbert was honored with the first Gussy Moran Humanitarian Award. The event was sponsored by Audi, Esurance, K-Swiss, 10sBalls.com, Mood Media, and the LA Daily News. The LA Tennis Challenge was broadcasted nationally in primetime Tuesday by Tennis Channel and will re-air numerous times in the coming weeks.
Photo credit: Cynthia Lum/LA Tennis Challenge
LA Tennis Challenge promoter Justin Girmelstob poses with Bruce Willis and Mike and Bob Bryan