Agassi To Headline Benefit
By EDUARDO A. ENCINA firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Dec 17, 2004
TAMPA - Former world No. 1 tennis player Jim Courier likes to joke about how he's washed up, always finding time to fit in a self-deprecating jab about how he's ranked No. 1 on the senior circuit, or as he calls it, ``The old-geezer circuit.''
Courier is five years into retirement, but the love for tennis is still there, and so are the connections. So when Courier needed a headliner for his annual tennis benefit event, he needed to make just one call - to Andre Agassi.
Agassi, a winner of eight grand slam titles, will highlight the second annual Mercedes-Benz Classic on March 21 at 7:30 p.m. at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Proceeds will benefit the Raymond James Courier's Kids Foundation, which funds an after-school tennis program for underprivileged youth at the St. Petersburg Tennis Center. Last year's event raised $335,000.
``It's phenomenal,'' Courier said of drawing Agassi. ``He's the biggest draw in tennis.
``Andre has never failed to step up to help someone he's close with,'' Courier said of the fellow 34-year-old. ``There weren't any questions other than, `What date is it? When do I need to be there? What do I need to do? OK, I'm in.' ''
The event will mark Agassi's first appearance in the Tampa Bay area in nearly 15 years, since he played in the Davis Cup in December 1990 at Tropicana Field.
Courier coined the event ``The Battle of the Ages'' because he will team with Agassi to face young bloods James Blake and Mardy Fish in doubles play. The players will also participate in singles matches.
Fish is coming off a season in which he won the Olympic silver medal and was pivotal in the U.S. Davis Cup team's ride to the final. Blake didn't have as memorable a year. Injuries have held him out of all but three tournaments since July.
Three years ago, owners of the St. Petersburg Tennis Center organized an after-school youth tennis program. Nearly two years ago, Courier was invited to the tennis center to do a clinic. It captivated Courier so much that he dreamed up last year's first Mercedes-Benz Classic.
The program began with six children, but has grown to 250 registered participants, said Rick Crockett, the program's director. On any given day, 70 to 100 young players fill the courts. Other than tennis, the program offers academic tutoring and computer training.
``To me it's kind of a recycling of the opportunity that I've had,'' Blake said. ``I started in a program similar to this in the Harlem tennis program, where the goal is to raise good citizens. ... For me just to be able to help out is just amazing.''
Andre Agassi forever