Tennis mania sets in at the Taco Bell Arena this weekend as a handful of the sport's top stars meet on the court for the fourth annual Rock-n-Racquets tennis exhibition Saturday, December 3.
The event, which has been held in Miami, Florida, Little Rock, Arkansas, and Mobile, Alabama, will benefit the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation, an agency that helps at-risk youth in the Las Vegas area.
Local tennis enthusiasts are bouncing off the walls, eagerly waiting to see Agassi, Steffi Graf, James Blake, the world's no. 1 doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan, and Belarusian teenager Viktoria Azarenka, the world's top-ranked junior.
"It's a dream for me and for the tennis community," said Boise State University's men tennis head coach Greg Patton. "It's a dream come true and I don't want to wake up. There are so many factors and great angles to this event. First, Blake lost to Agassi on a tiebreaker of the fifth set in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. That match is one of the classics. Now we have them here in Boise to play a rematch of that game. To top it off, Steffi hasn't played competitively since she retired, and now she's reunited on the court with her husband (Agassi)."
Agassi and Graff will team against the Bryan brothers in a mixed doubles match, and Blake will take Graff's place in the men's double match. Patton says, "It's the greatest tennis event we've had in the state."
Planning for the event began in April when Patton, local tennis enthusiast Tommy Buford and local sponsors met with executives from SFX Sports Group based in Washington, D.C.
Buford, who ran a $3 million professional worldwide tennis circuit tour in Tennessee before he retired, met SFX event director Jeff Newman in New York "two U.S. Opens ago," and talked about the possibility of bringing the exposition to Boise.
SFX has spearheaded the Rock-n-Racquets since its Miami debut in 2002. The event weaves both tennis and music together to show the sport in a different way, Newman said. "It started as a way to showcase these particular players and grow the game in markets without these types of events."
During the event, a DJ from the Scratch DJ Academy in New York City will play music ranging from classical to hip-hop. Wayne Bryan, father of the tennis double's team, will act as the master of ceremonies.
Patton says Rock-n-Racquets "is a magical celebration in tennis for the community and state. It's the greatest tennis event we've had in the state." He said the event should spark tennis fever in the area, and hopes Boise will find a new respect for the sport after seeing legendary players on a home court.
"For me, it's like introducing your fiance to your family. I'm looking forward to seeing people who haven't experienced tennis at this level to be here and to hear, taste, see and feel the sport. It's significant because Steffi Graf is coming out of retirement, and Agassi will probably retire, so this is a great chance for many to see some of the greats playing for one of the last times."
While the event showcases nationally elite players, those behind the scenes will be locals. Twenty-four Boise-area youth were selected from a field of 58 to be ball kids. According to Patton, the kids were selected after passing a test on throwing ability, running, athletics and knowledge of the game. Locals will also act as linemen and umpires.
Although Newman did not say how many tickets have sold, Patton estimates that number to be about 5,000 with event planners hoping to sell about twice that many before Saturday's event.
Both Newman and Patton agree that the event couldn't have been possible without the support of local sponsors, including the Boise Co-op, Micron, Pepsi and St. Luke's Idaho Elks Rehabilitation Services.
However, the main sponsor, Tamarack Resorts, hopes its connection with the Agassi foundation continues well past Saturday's event. Tamarack became involved with the charity last January in order to plan a luxury hotel developed by Agassi Enterprises and other groups in Florida, according to Michael Ferensowicz, director of village development for Tamarack.
"Our relationship with the Agassi group started with the hotel interest, but it gave us the perfect opportunity to work with the group as they were looking at venues for Rock-n-Racquets."
Even Ferensowicz has caught a little tennis fever.
"Rock-n-Racquets presents an opportunity to bring to the citizens of Boise some of the best tennis players alive, and that's what drove our sponsorship. I'm excited about the match, especially in light of the U.S. Open semifinals where Andre Agassi and Blake played until 1:15 a.m. to 20,000 screaming fans. I can't wait for the rematch we have right here in Boise."
Tickets are still available for Rock-n-Racquets. December 3, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6 p.m.), Taco Bell Arena. Tickets available through Select-a-Seat outlets, by phone at 426-1766 or online at www.idahotickets.com. For more information on the event, visit www.rocknracquets.com.