Saturday, October 29, 2011

Team Elton Wins Again!





The city of Cleveland holds special memories for Sir Elton John and Martina Navratilova. Both were in Northeast Ohio yesterday for the 19th annual World Team Tennis Smash Hit charity event which was held at Public Hall last night. While most know of the enormous success they both achieved in their fields, few realize that Cleveland was a stepping stone in their achievements.


Sir Elton, the composer of numerous classic rock hits, mentioned that Public Hall was the first venue he played in America in the press conference before tennis took center stage. He added that the facility, which recently underwent a major renovation, looks much better than it did in 1972 when the master British pianist showcased his talents to this side of the Atlantic for the first time. He was right. Public Hall truly shined and made for an elegant setting for a night that was filled with tennis royalty alongside a member of Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. John was later knighted for supporting causes like the one held last night which help raise funding and awareness of the AIDS epidemic.

While Cleveland earned the title as the Home of Rock n Roll for stories such as helping break artists such as Elton John in 1972, the world of sports also saw a young superstar learning the ropes here in the 1970s. Martina Navratilova, prior to displaying the prowess that made her the winningest player the game has ever witnessed, lived on the Northcoast when she was a rookie member of Cleveland's pro tennis team the Cleveland Nets. She reminisced about her experience here which included a humorous story about her roommate trying to show her how to make an omelet that didn't turn out all that well. The 55-year-old, who plays half her age on court, added it was nice to revisit the city in which she got her start in World Team Tennis, as she has now been involved in the league for four different decades. Clevelanders don't need to be reminded of bad trades of our sports franchises but Billy Jean King, who founded WTT, did so anyway as she wondered out loud why in the world the Nets traded the soon-to-be-legend to Boston after just one season of service. King also reminded the press room of another legend who played for the Cleveland Nets - non other than the great Bjorn Borg.

While the focus of the evening was on raising money for local AIDS and HIV charities, the press conference held prior to live tennis also focused the state of the great game . The room was full of legends as King, John McEnroe, Narvoltiva, Andy Roddick, and Amelie Mauresmo shared their stories and viewpoints of their sport. They were joined by Coco Vandeweghe, Jan-Michael Gambill, and Gates Mills 18-year-old native Lauren Davis who had her first moment of Grand Slam competition last year in the Australian Open. The group discussed a myriad of issues past and present that have helped shape the world tennis

Following the press conference, which was delightful for any follower of the game such as myself and linked to on YouTube below the page, the players turned their attention to fundraising. Emceeing the event was Mary Jo Fernandez, who was ranked as high as number 4 in the world. Fernandez has called Cleveland home for the past decade and was aided by former 3rd ranked singles player Pam Shriver. The live and silent auction collected more than $155,000 and the total funds raised during the evening came to $500,000 for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland.

The night concluded with team tennis which Billie Jean King wants to make more prevalent when teaching the game to youth. King believes that teamwork is the foundation of making the sport fun and believes that the word "lesson" should be thrown out of the tennis lexicon completely. The group, which included a cameo of Elton John displaying his talents the court, played a series of 5 matches which saw the Cleveland area native Davis steal the show in front of her home crowd by being the catalyst in a comeback victory for the team captained by the famous piano player. It was truly a night to remember for the 3,500 tennis fans across Northeast Ohio who had the privilege to witness the event, and a nice walk down memory lane for two legends in their respective fields.

- Cleveland Leader

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