Here are some of the high/lowlights of last night’s Billie Jean King Cup exhibition with Venus and Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic in Madison Square Garden. Venus and Serena met in the hoped-for final, with a fresher Serena taking the title.
1. Insane prize money: a 1.2 million dollar purse and only four players. The Serbs got $250,000 for showing up, Venus won $300,000 and Serena raked in $400,000.
2. Commentator John McEnroe was all excited about about being able to swear on HBO – but he behaved himself with fellow commentators Billie Jean King and Mary Carillo.
3. At one point, they went to a shot of the Midtown Tennis Club in Chicago to promote the evening’s “Tennis Night in America” theme, and I learned that this is where Michelle Obama, Sasha and Malia used to play tennis every Sunday! What!? The Obamas are tennis fans!? Get them on the cover of Tennis Magazine!
4. Speaking of magazine covers, Vogue magazine editor-at-living-large, Andre Leon Tally, was sitting front and center in a red polo and a massive fur stole.
5. Ivan Lendl was also there as a promoter of the event.
6. First match up: Jelena Jankovic vs. Venus Williams. It was a one set/no ad scoring set-up, which moved everything along at lightening speed. J.J. didn’t have a chance to annoy with her consistency and went down to Venus, 6-4.
7. McEnroe is a J.J. fan: “Jankovic moves better than anyone I’ve seen on a tennis court.” and he later says that J.J.will have a better career and is a better athlete than Ana Ivanovic. Ouch.
8. Sucks: no challenge system.
9. Serena vs. Ivanovic: Serena looked like a lioness and Ana like Bambi’s girlfriend. Ana put up a respectable fight, though, earning three break points that came to naught before going down 6-3. Her serve’s still suspect – she was scampering after her ball tosses the entire set.
10. Break for video montages! (You can watch at hbo.com) Venus’s montage focused mostly on her role as a “leader” on the tour, including her fight for equal prize money at Wimbledon and (strangely) her leadership (?) in the Shahar Pe’er fiasco. Serena’s montage dealt mostly with her come back circa Australia, 2007, and on how hard it was for her to cope with the murder of her sister, Yetunde Price. Serena was the first person to be contacted by authorities after the fact. So sad.
11. Bill Clinton time! He was the highlight of the Billie Jean King tribute segment. He gave props to BJK for doing more than anyone to “empower women and educate men” and for “being who you are and never giving in.” The highlight of his remarkably short speech were these words: “For all of you who are a little down and a little worried (about the state of the world), remember that if you have the heart of a champion – if you have the heart of Billie Jean King – you can belong and you can prevail.” Nice. BJK made some short remarks at the end – you can’t really follow Bill Clinton.
12. Venus vs. Serena: The best-of-three-set match was delayed because Bill Clinton went backstage to chat with everyone, including all four of the players. The match itself was not a classic. Venus was nursing a bum knee and Serena dominated. BJK, McEnroe and Carillo talked incessantly throughout about everything but the tennis – BJK even complained about how long the night was and could be heard yawning in the background. If you don’t want to watch, why should we, BJK?
13. Serena wins! 6-4, 6-3, at 11:30 NYC time. Right after the match Billie Jean King ran down to the court to give Venus some quick pointers on her serve (not kidding) and then it was time for the –
14. Trophy presentation! Ivan Lendl presented the crystal.
15. Everyone gave big props to sponsor BNP Paribas, as well they should, considering that the company is holding up the entire sport.
16. The event benefited an organization called Dream Vaccines, which provides AIDS and malaria vaccines to the poor. The foundation was presented with a $50,000 check, which seemed a little cheap after all the other moolah had been doled out.
17. Funny line at the end from John McEnroe “It’s a sign of the apocalypse” that he found himself working for Ivan Lendl, one of the event promoters. Ha!
18. The NYT reported that a respectable 12,026 people showed up for the event. Not bad for a snow day!
Photo: by Chris McGrath/Getty Images