Novak Djokovic gets red-carpet treatment at UCLA's L.A. Tennis Challenge exhibition
By Jack Wang, Staff Writer
World No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic reacts after a fan in the front row is almost hit by a ball during his match with Mardy Fish during the L.A. Tennis Challenge on Monday at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.
The crowd waited patiently for over two hours before its hero arrived Monday night, a small if dedicated throng crowding renovated Pauley Pavilion's first-ever red carpet event.
A family of six had created two cardboard signs mounted on sticks, each bearing enlarged, colorized versions of Novak Djokovic's face.
Some fans wore T-shirts bearing his nickname, "Nole." Others kept themselves warm with scarves that resembled Serbian flags.
The world's top-ranked player was finally playing in Los Angeles and, exhibition or not, was cause enough for some evening buzz.
The results of the first L.A. Tennis Challenge may not have mattered, but former UCLA and ATP player Justin Gimelstob was determined to make sure it signaled the importance of maintaining the sport's place in the city.
Last year, Los Angeles' ATP event license was sold to Colombian investors who took it to their home country.
Playing against Mardy Fish, once ranked as high as No. 7 in the world, Gimelstob decided this wouldn't be the end. He enlisted Fish's help in recruiting top talent and called in some favors.
The result? An event that had Djokovic featured in both singles and doubles matches on a makeshift blue hardcourt. He defeated Fish 8-7(2) in the marquee matchup of the night, and then partnered with American tennis legend Pete Sampras as a follow-up.
"We're going to really show that tennis is alive and well here," Gimelstob said. "That it's fun, entertaining. We're going to show great tennis (inside) $137-million renovated Pauley Pavilion. It's state-of-the art here tonight, and we're going to show that tennis in L.A. is alive and well."
Djokovic and Sampras lost to Bob and Mike Bryan 10-7, a match that was delayed after the lights went out at Pauley Pavilion, with its lower sections filled respectably for the first-time event. CW-25
It was the second hiccup of the night. During the opening event, former world No. 2 Tommy Haas broke the net on a serve - delaying his singles match against former No. 4 James Blake by over 20 minutes.
Fortunately, Gimelstob joked, the event wasn't live.
It will be broadcast at 4 p.m. today on the Tennis Channel.
Some celebrities walked by on the red carpet to help promote the event: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, actress Ali Larter and actor Timothy Olyphant were among the more recognizable faces.
They barely generated a peep.
It was only when Djokovic appeared outside the arena that the crowd erupted. "He's the Michael Jordan of the 2000 s!" a man cried out.
Fans, who had been told to stand behind a blue tape, swarmed in as closely as they could against the red rope. Djokovic obliged the many autograph requests, even picking up a young boy as he did a television interview. "It'll be a lot of fun, and hopefully, I'll perform well for the people," Djokovic said.
After soaking in the love, he headed inside to prepare for some tennis.