Maria Sharapova is bringing top-level tennis back to the Los Angeles area.
The five-time Grand Slam title winner will host a sports-and-entertainment event in December at the UCLA Tennis Center, with participants such as 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick, 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori of Japan, Americans Jack Sock and Madison Keys, and Britain's Laura Robson.
The two-day tournament's tentative schedule features Sharapova against Keys, and Nishikori against Sock. Roddick is not the only retired player who'll swing a racket; 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang, who now works as Nishikori's coach, is slated to be there, too.
And make no mistake: Exhibition or not, Sharapova intends to play as if something significant is at stake -- and she hopes others do the same.
"I wanted to create a format in which all the players are getting ready for a big tournament -- the Australian Open -- and they're ready to go out and compete. And I wanted to make this ... (have) a serious style," said Sharapova, who pulled out of hard-court tournaments the past two weeks with a right leg injury, hardly ideal preparation for the U.S. Open, which starts next Monday.
"Sometimes when we come in to play exhibitions, it's a lot of 'hit and giggle,' which is great to get to know the personality of athletes. But this is also the time of year where we're getting ready to compete," she added in a telephone interview, "and I think it's important that we go out and compete at the level the fans expect us to, which is what I wanted to incorporate into the event."
Not everything will be "serious style," though: There will be a comedy show during the event, and comedian Chelsea Handler will be among the celebrities playing tennis.
There used to be a WTA tournament near Los Angeles, in Carson, California, but that was last held in 2009. The WTA's season-ending championships were in L.A. most recently from 2002-05.
"Los Angeles is just a great sporting community, but not with a lot of tennis going on," Sharapova said.
She aims to make this a regular offseason happening, a month or so before the Grand Slam season starts at the Australian Open.
"This is a great opportunity to see how it goes; the first year, you're always working on a few things," Sharapova said. "It's been in the making for a long time, and we want to make it a high-quality event. That's what people expect to see."
Online: Tickets for "Maria Sharapova & Friends, presented by Porsche" on Dec. 12-13 are available at www.MariaSharapova.com
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