What a Match! – Seles, Navratilova headline VCU’s Raise a Racquet

The Virginia Commonwealth University SportsCenter announced on Thursday that they will host a pro exhibition match between Martina Navratilova and Monica Seles in March as part of a series of tennis events in Richmond called “Raise a Racquet.”

The event will kick off on March 13 with a five day mixed doubles tournament at VCU’s Thalhimer Tennis Center. On March 21, the event will sponsor a youth clinic for Richmond-city Girl Scouts at the Thalhimer Tennis Center. In addition, on March 21, there will be a silent auction at the VCU’s ALLTEL Pavilion at the Stuart C. Siegel Center that will feature appearances by Seles and Navratilova. The fundraiser auction will feature vacation getaways and a LASIK eye surgery to name a few items.

Raise a Racquet will close on March 22 as Seles and Navratilova will play a mixed doubles pro set with local professionals Carl Clark and Sean Steinour and then face each other in a three-set singles match at the Siegel Center

The event’s aim is to promote tennis in Richmond while raising money for VCU, Advantage Virginia and The McCormack Foundation.

“This is going to be exciting for all of Central Virginia,” commented VCU Athletic Director Richard L. Sander. “We’ll have a number of huge events that will bring focus to something important.”

One unique aspect of the event is that is being coordinated by 43 graduate students at the VCU SportsCenter. The VCU SportsCenter, which was launched in 1999, offers graduate students the opportunity to get a master’s degree in sports leadership.

“We’re going to bring the community behind the event,” explained VCU SportsCenter spokeswoman and graduate student Kathleen Bowles. “The students have had a hands-on role. It’s an experience we’re grateful for having.”

Bowles said she’s excited at the prospect of watching Seles play in the exhibitions.

“Her ability is well respected and I’m looking forward to her coming into town.”

Seles, who participated in the afternoon press conference via conference call, said despite her recent and past injuries, she’s thrilled to be a participant in the event and impressed with the participation of VCU’s SportsCenter students.

“It is fantastic that the students are managing the event,” she said.

“I’ll be very happy to be playing again. I haven’t played in awhile,” Seles, who is recovering from a foot injury, explained. “It will be a fantastic match with Martina with contrasting styles.”

Seles last played competitively in the 2003 French Open last May and last faced Navratilova over two years ago.

“Martina is one of the great players to play the game. She’s a real inspiration,” said Seles, who has won nine Grand Slam singles titles since she turned pro in 1989 at the age of 15. “We always had epic matches. Each match has been very close and competitive.”

Seles has won 53 singles titles and 6 doubles titles in her career.

Advantage Virginia, a beneficiary of the event, is in the process of developing a program that will bring tennis, academic and tutoring opportunities to children at a planned world class tennis facility in Richmond. For the youth clinic, which will be held March 21, the advisor ratio for the participants will be three youths to one advisor. Advantage Virginia representative Tommy Cain, a former professional tennis player, said Advantage Virginia is “excited to be the beneficiary of the proceeds.”

Navratilova, who has turned pro in 1973, retired in 1994 and launched a comeback recently, has won 167 singles titles, including 18 Grand Slam titles, and 79 doubles titles. Her 167 singles titles are more than any man or woman has won in professional tennis.

Seles leads the head-to-head competition between the two, winning ten of their 17 matches.

Despite a career advantage, Seles has the utmost respect for Navratilova.

“She’s unbelievable; not just how she plays,” she commented. “She is still winning Grand Slam events now. It’s amazing how she’s improved [since coming out of retirement].”