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Agassi and Graf follow lead of other tennis greats by playing in Casals' Harbor Point event
CAN YOU TOP THIS? Rosie Casals asks herself that question whenever she begins to flip through her Rolodex looking for retired pros to play in her Esurance Tennis Classic fundraiser event entering its fifth year at Strawberry's Harbor Point Tennis and Swim Club.
Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis have all headlined Casals' tennis weekend with the stars at Harbor Point's picturesque courts by the bay. But it took the tennis power couple of Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi to push the event over the top. The duo's one-day-only appearance this weekend has helped make Sunday a sellout - the first time the annual two-day event has ever had to turn tennis fans away.
"It's not easy, you have to work with everyone's schedule," said Casals, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame who lives near the Harbor Point courts. "Once we explain that this is all for the charities, it's a lot easier to get these very busy players to come out here."
Agassi and Graf, who combined to win 30 Grand Slam event titles, fell in love with Marin a long time ago. They once filmed a television commercial with their son Jaden and pro player Taylor Dent in the area. They owned a multi-million dollar home in Tiburon until selling it several years ago when their busy post-tennis life made it obvious that they needed to be based in Agassi's hometown of Las Vegas. Their daughter's birthday party is this Saturday, but the couple agreed to fly to Marin on Sunday to play a little tennis and help the cause.
"I am looking forward to seeing the event Rosie has given so much of her life to," said Agassi, who was attracted by the cancer-fighting organizations benefited by the event. Both his mother and sister are cancer survivors. "We are all touched by cancer in one way or another. Events like these are so important to the cause."
Michael Chang also joins the fun this year. Chang, who won the French Open and is a hall-of-fame member, is scheduled to play Saturday and Sunday with his wife Amber Liu - a former pro herself who was a standout player at Stanford. Other retired big names from the pros include Brad Gilbert, Rick Leach, Conchita Martinez, Tracy Austin, Corina Morariu, Luke Jensen and Murphy Jensen.
Gilbert, a San Rafael resident, had a solid pro career before coaching Agassi when he reached No. 1 in the world. The Marin maestro also coached Andy Roddick to a U.S. Open title and worked with Andy Murray.
On Friday, kids from all over the Bay Area get lessons from club pros during the Youth Tennis Advantage junior clinic. "We are excited about that too," Casals said. "It's a new training program that is very successful."
With the same energy she delivered during her dominant days as a doubles partner on the court, Casals brings all these pros together with a smile and wave. It's a magic touch not too many of her peers can match.
"I think that now, after five years, we have established what this event is all about. We have reached our horizon," she said.
Like all the other pros, Agassi and Graf were ready to say yes.
"I've known Rosie since I first came on the (pro tennis) tour," Agassi said. "She's always been such a sweet person - very warm and engaging. I love her spirit. This is something we have wanted to do for a long time."