Charity tennis event raises over $400,000 in Pavilion



Kyrie Hupka

Music superstar Elton John and his long-time friend and tennis icon Billie Jean King hosted the 15th annual Advanta World Team Tennis Smash Hits in the Pavilion on Oct. 10. WTT Smash Hits is a charity tennis event hosted in different cities across the country each year. This year’s Smash Hits benefitted the Elton John AIDS Foundation and ActionAIDS of Philadelphia.

Returning participants included Andy Roddick, Anna Kournikova, Lindsay Davenport and Patrick McEnroe. Joining them for the first time at this event was John Isner, the 2007 University of Georgia graduate who impressed U.S. Open crowds this summer with his 6-foot-9-inch stature and serves up to 140 mph. As a senior, Isner led the Georgia Bulldogs to the NCAA team title and became the all-time leader in singles and doubles wins at Georgia.

“When I got the call to come here, I jumped at the opportunity right away,” Isner said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be here and be a part of this.”

Another first-time participant was Corina Morariu, a current player for the Kansas City Explorers of the WTT Pro League. Morariu was sidelined from the game in 2001 after being diagnosed with leukemia. She made her return to pro competition one year later with the Philadelphia Freedoms. She is now a spokesperson for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

“After my experience, it’s very important to me and great to be able to give back in whatever way I can,” Morariu said. “I know how much it meant to me to have the support of many when I was dealing with my illness, and hopefully this event can help people in a similar situation.”

The evening’s events began with a special reception and auction for VIP ticket holders. The silent auction featured ticket packages to Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, as well as signed memorabilia donated from some of the sport’s biggest names.

Following the silent auction was a live auction attended by John, King and all of the players. As King explained in a press conference prior to the auction, much of the proceeds from Smash Hits typically come directly from the live auction.

Kournikova kicked off the auction by buying a package that included tickets to John’s Red Piano show in Las Vegas, along with dinner in his private suite for $35,000. Advanta Chairman and CEO Dennis Alter capped off the auction by putting in a winning bid for a hit with McEnroe and pointers from King at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Other auctioned items included a private hitting session with Roddick and one of John’s piano benches inscribed to the winning bidder. Comedienne Wanda Sykes made a surprise appearance to get the crowd laughing, and Roddick encouraged bidders to be generous.

After the auction, the on-court festivities began. The event maintained some elements of typical WTT events, including co-ed teams, abbreviated match play and a less formal atmosphere than traditional competitive tennis. The audience was encouraged to cheer and sing along with excerpts of John’s hits as they played over the Pavilion’s sound system.

The first matchup was a doubles match featuring John partnered with Roddick versus Davenport and Kournikova.

“These days I never practice the piano,” John said. “Instead, I play tennis all summer long. I’d rather practice tennis than piano any day.”

The event continued with matchups including each of the players in both singles and doubles formats.

“Elton and I don’t like the athletes to do this little exhibition, cutesy stuff,” King said. “A little bit’s OK for entertainment, but we want people to see how great these guys are.”

With the help of Isner’s win over Roddick and Isner and Davenport’s doubles win over Roddick and Morariu, Team Elton prevailed.

“It’s a lot more fun hitting the 140 mph [serve] than having it hit against you,” Roddick said of Isner’s weapon.

Prior to this year’s event, Team Billie Jean had enjoyed a five-year winning streak.

Although the tennis was certainly entertaining, the event’s main thrust was to increase awareness about AIDS and raise money for AIDS and HIV patients. Since 1993, WTT Smash Hits has raised more than $8 million for the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The last time Smash Hits was held at Villanova was in 2002 in front of a standing-room-only crowd.

This year’s event was successful as well, raising over $400,000.

“The money tonight is just a bonus,” John said. “It will be very well spent. We investigate everything we give out before we give it. You can be sure that the money people give us tonight will go out to places and we won’t be wasting any of it.”

According to John, about 96 percent of the proceeds from each Smash Hits event go directly toward the fight against AIDS both locally through ActionAIDS and globally through the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Established by John in 1992, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has raised over $100 million to support AIDS prevention and service programs in 55 countries around the world. It has been given a four-star rating by the Charity Review for its activities over the past two years, the highest rating a charity can receive.

Through the Elton John AIDS Foundation, HIV testing and counseling as well as assisted living services have been made available to countless individuals worldwide.

John said that he is grateful for the many connections he has made during his career in music because he is able to call on fellow celebrities to help attract attention and funding toward his and other AIDS charities.

“[Celebrity participation] helps because we get a lot of attention from it,” King said. “We need awareness to raise money. AIDS is about men and women, and it’s about children too, and there’s so much work left to do.”

As well as benefitting the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the proceeds from Smash Hits will also be distributed to ActionAIDS, a Philadelphia-based charitable organization.

ActionAIDS was founded in 1986 under the principle that no one should ever have to face AIDS alone. It is currently Pennsylvania’s largest AIDS service organization with over 500 regular volunteers in the region.

“The quality of the tennis was fabulous, and we raised a lot of money for charity,” King said.