U.S. Open festivities to include a full serving of champs

John McEnroe, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors have all heard the cheers on center court, and they will again Monday night.

Those former champions will be on hand tonight to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Open tennis at the United States championships in what should be a special evening. Arlen Kantarian, the head of the USTA, boasted that it will be the “greatest collection of tennis players in one place,” and he could be right.

Monica Seles, Ivan Lendl, Tracy Austin, Martina Navratilova, Stan Smith, Boris Becker, Gabriela Sabatini, John Newcombe, Ilie Nastase, Guillermo Vilas and Mats Wilander will be on parade, as will former champions who are still active, including Roger Federer, Lindsay Davenport, Venus and Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Marat Safin and Andy Roddick.

Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf are not expected to be there, but Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and her daughter Camera Ashe, will be on hand representing their late husband and father, Arthur Ashe, who won the first U.S. Open men’s title in 1968.

Virginia Wade, who was the first women’s champ, will also be there. Since major tournaments were opened to professional players in 1968, there have been 40 champions –39 are still alive.

The evening will also include music by Earth Wind and Fire and the Jersey Boys. When it is all over, Coco Vandeweghe, the niece of Nets GM Kiki Vandeweghe, will play No. 2 Jelena Jankovic, and James Blake will follow against Donald Young. Originally the plan was to have two former champions play, but then it was decided to have them participate in the celebration instead.

Despite the fact he’s the best player in the world — and a growing matinee idol at that — No. 1 Rafael Nadal is not playing his first match at night. His match against Bjorn Phau is in Arthur Ashe Stadium in the afternoon, after Davenport’s match against Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada.

The USTA says that over the next two weeks it will use 72,000 balls, will have over 700,000 paying customers and 90 million viewers worldwide.