With a Little Help from My Friends

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Roddick can still dig down and fight. Photo: Andy J. Gordon

There’s nothing that compares to the excitement and anticipation in tennis when it comes to the four majors, and there is nothing more at stake either. Then there are the exhibitions in the sport which, aside from Word Team Tennis, typically occur in the short off-season (December).

Even the most rabid tennis fan can’t be blamed for not caring about these exos as they are often scripted, and there is no reward for winning matches and/or competing at the highest level. The feeling here is that a tennis exhibition event has but one purpose: to entertain. “Maria Sharapova & Friends, presented by Porsche” took place at the UCLA Tennis Center this past weekend and featured Sharapova, along with former world No. 1 Andy Roddick, world No.4 and 2014 US Open finalist Kei Nishikori, Mardy Fish American rising stars Madison Keys, Jack Sock, Sloane Stephens, and Shelby Rogers along with Britain’s Laura Robson.

I was intrigued. This was a legitimate card, and the event planners played an even stronger hand by recruiting Fish to replace Michael Chang in the opening singles match against Roddick. This match did not disappoint. While Roddick was rusty, his competitive spirit shone brightly. Fish was only of  removed from playing on the tour and looked as if he had never left the game.

This skirmish between old rivals did not disappoint. I would pay money to watch these former high school buddies play Scrabble.

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Host Sharapova was a main draw. Photo: Andy J. Gordon

The match was settled in a deciding set, ten-point tiebreak, in which Fish had to save a match point before closing out the contest. It was tough act to follow, or so it seemed.

The host of the event was pitted against the promising AmericanMadison Keys. While their playing styles and physiques are similar, the comparisons end there. Even though the temperature was plummetingthe level of play did not. It was like deja vu; the match went the distance and Keys also held a match point, but she ultimately came up short and, like Roddick, lost the final set in a match tiebreak. The day concluded with a celebrity hit and giggle doubles match. The tennis was nothing to write about, but the entertainment value of the match was crowd pleasing.

While Sundays matches featuring Sock vs. Nishikori and Stephens vs. Rodgers did not have the same competitive spirit of day one, they more than made up for it with humor and flashy shot making.
The final match of the day was a mixed double match between Sharapova and Nishikori vs. Robson and Sock. Sock demonstrated why he is a Wimbledon double champion and was clearly the best double player on the court. The only double fault that plagued the exhibition was not having microphones on the players, particularly in all the double matches. The event could have served the fans and TV viewers better by simply miking the players. Unless one had a court side seat, most of the good-natured banter between the players was missed. The good news is that it’s an easy fix.

To her credit, Sharapova pulled off the weekend with a little help from her friends.

To catch re-airings of “Maria Sharapova & Friends, presented by Porsche” go to www.tennischannel.com for times and dates.


Brad Falkner has worked in tennis media since 2002.

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