Legends coming to town

Monica Seles is the headliner for the 14th annual event that benefits the Berks Chapter, American Red Cross.

Only a few weeks ago tennis great Monica Seles was “Dancing with the Stars.”

This weekend Seles will be in town as the headliner for the 14th annual American Red Cross Legends of Tennis event, which features eight Berks scholastic players playing tennis with the stars.

John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova, Rod Laver, Tracy Austin, Ken Rosewall, Virginia Wade and Roy Emerson are among the many former greats who have come to Berks County for the event, which has raised more than $750,000 for the Berks chapter.

This weekend Seles will be joined by John Isner, Johan Kriek and Corina Morariu in the two-day event that culminates with an exhibition, featuring the scholastic players Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Alvernia College’s Physical Education Center.

The event has been modified this year to a World Team Tennis format – women’s and men’s singles, women’s and men’s doubles and mixed doubles. That will allow four more scholastic players to participate than in the past.

Exeter’s Shawn Bittinger, Conrad Weiser’s Mike Meyer and Wyomissing’s Zach Simon, who are currently involved in their spring season, earned spots for Saturday’s event by gaining the most points out of eight boys competitors recently in a round-robin doubles event.

Simon defeated Spartans teammate Sean MacAusland in a 12-point tiebreaker after the two had tied for third.

Exeter’s Emily Broadbent and Holy Name’s Victoria Foanio and Ally Balaci qualified from their eight-player girls field.

“I’ve never experienced anything like this before, so I’m pretty excited,” said Bittinger, a junior. “The fact that I’m going to actually be on the court playing with professionals and against them is exciting. It will be a great experience.”

Berks singles champions Martha Blakely of Wyomissing and Tommy Meyer of Conrad Weiser will play singles in the event.

Blakely, the three-time state singles champion, gets the opportunity to hit with her idol.

“Monica Seles has always been my idol,” said Blakely, a senior headed for Virginia Tech in the fall who is keeping in shape this spring by running on the track team. “I am uber-pumped to get the chance to play with her, just to meet her.”

Blakely nearly missed out on the opportunity.

Soon after winning her third PIAA singles title, she had wrist surgery at Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia in December to shorten the ulna bone in her right arm.

The surgery has become more common for tennis players with two-handed strokes.

Blakely’s surgeon, Dr. Randall Culp, who operated on Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley last season, gave her clearance to resume playing last week.

“I was a little scared, but knew I was in very good hands,” said Blakely, who played with John Lloyd and McEnroe in the 2005 Legends event when she was 14. “I’m playing again. It feels great. I’m just getting back my strength.”

Seles was just 16 when she won the French Open. When she was 17, she became the youngest player to be ranked No. 1 in the world.

She won 53 singles titles, six doubles titles and nine Grand Slam championships. Her last Grand Slam title, the Australian Open in 1996, came nearly three years after her career was interrupted by a deranged fan, who stabbed her in the back at a tournament in Germany.

Now 34, she officially announced her retirement from professional tennis earlier this year.

Tommy Meyer, who will attempt to win his third straight county singles title this month, will play singles against Isner, a 6-9 giant known for his booming serve. He reached his highest career ranking at No. 84 within the last week.

“It will be a rude awakening for me,” said Meyer, who could make a decision on his college choice in the next few weeks. “I’m nervous and excited.”

Joining Seles and Kriek as part of one team will be Broadbent, Balaci and the Meyer brothers. Teamed with Morariu and Isner will be Blakely, Foanio, Bittinger and Simon.

The other players from the qualifier – Fleetwood’s Ashley Karli and Nick Desiderio, Gov. Mifflin’s Alyssa Gleason, Reading High’s Danielle White and Henry Ben, Schuylkill Valley’s Jen Moll and Wyomissing’s Kate Herman, Dan Malloy, Alex Grimm and MacAusland – will get the opportunity to play with the pros Friday in a high-performance clinic at Spring Valley.