Rallying at The Riv

Tennis stars (l-r) Andy Roddick, Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova with L.A. Fire Department West Bureau Deputy Chief Armando Hogan in front of a fire truck outside the Riviera Country Club during Sunday’s Riviera Tennis Classic fundraiser.
Photos by Steve Galluzzo

Pro Players Put on a Show Sunday at First Riviera Tennis Classic

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

The stars showed up, the rain stayed away and by Sunday evening everyone involved in the first-ever Riviera Tennis Classic showed that ingenuity and action can make a world of difference.

Former top-10 player and 14-year ATP Tour veteran James Blake rallies from the baseline in Sunday’s singles match.

Tennis stars Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, James Blake, Venus Williams and Monica Puig answered questions from former pro and coach and Tennis Channel commentator Paul Annacone at a VIP reception in the clubhouse, then took to the courts for an hour-long clinic where ticketholders got to exchange volleys, groundstrokes and verbal jabs with all five champions. Finally, former Davis Cup partners Roddick and Blake faced off in a friendly singles exhibition, Williams and Puig followed with a singles match of their own, then Roddick paired with Williams to take on Blake and Puig in doubles. When the last ball was struck, everyone was a winner and a check in the amount of $50,000 was presented to the American Red Cross and Los Angeles Firefighters Foundation.

Monica Puig of Puerto Rico won the gold medal in singles at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

VIP guests were invited on to the stage for photos with the players and live auction items included four-night French Open and Wimbledon packages (each valued at $22,000), a Rolex watch costing $7,850 and a weekend Porsche Driving Experience (valued at $3,800).

Winning the Wimbledon trip with a bid of $13,000 was Riviera member and Marquez Knolls resident Mark Rosenthal, who played in Sunday’s clinic and whose wife Laurie use to coordinate the host families for the ITA Women’s All-American Tennis Championships, which were played annually at Riviera through 2018.     

Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova gives a few pointers to clinic participants.

“We love tennis, we’ve never been to Wimbledon and our property in Malibu was significantly affected by the fires, so we’re supporting the cause,” he said.

Roddick, who was known for his booming serve and inside-out forehand, competed on the ATP Tour for 15 years, won the 2003 U.S. Open title, made it to four Grand Slam singles finals and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

“James and I became close as teammates on the Davis Cup team and we’re still good friends.” said Roddick, who won the 10-game pro set 10-5, ending it with one of his vintage aces off the center line.

WTA star and former world No. 1 Venus Williams (right) high-fives her doubles partner during Sunday’s pro and player clinic on the upper courts at Riviera Tennis Club.

  “We’ve played each other a lot over the years,” added Blake, a former 14-year ATP Tour veteran who was ranked as high as No. 4. “Andy’s won more than me and he widened the gap today, but this was about giving back. Everyone who lives here in L.A. saw the damage the fires did.”

Sharapova was No. 1 on the WTA Tour for 21 weeks and first attained that ranking at the age of 18. She has won each of the four major singles championships and owns 36 career titles.

“Growing up my goal was to become a tennis champion—that’s what I woke up every morning and trained for,” she said. “There are so many roads you can take. I love to eat, I love food and I can’t do the gluten-free or dairy-free thing. I know diet is a big deal for an athlete, but I prefer to  work out a little extra and eat what I want.”

Along with her younger sister Serena, Venus Williams grew up in Compton and played in a clinic at Riviera as a child. Also a former world No. 1 player, she has won seven Grand Slam singles titles, 14 Grand Slam doubles crowns and four Olympic gold medals.

Former world No. 1 and 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick hits a forehand in Sunday’s singles exhibition.

“What keeps me going? Playing for Olympic glory or just to be there, to be honest,” Williams said.  “I love my job, it’s fun and I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. Serena has a kid and a husband so if she can keep going, I have no excuse!”

Puig made history at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, becoming the first Puerto Rican athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. She beat Williams 8-6 in the exhbition, but Williams got revenge when she and Roddick won the doubles match in a tiebreaker.

Seal, the Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, played in the clinic and Oscar-winning actress Jodie Foster also attended.