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Many of the top tennis players in the world are in Memphis, Tennessee, this week for the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships and the Cellular South Cup benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Former champions Andy Roddick and Tommy Haas are among a field of top contenders such as Martin Del Potro, James Blake and 2008 champion Steve Darcis who are competing for the RMK title and over $1.2 million in prize money at the Racquet Club of Memphis.
Meanwhile the Cellular South Cup features two of the world’s top 15 players, Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka who will be looking for a share of the $200,000 prize money.
St. Jude has been the beneficiary of this event since 1993, when it was known as the Kroger St. Jude and to date the event has generated more than $3 million for the hospital.
The money raised by the tournament have funded the Arthur Ashe Chair of Pediatric AIDS Research at St. Jude and an endowment named for tennis great Tim Gullikson, who died of a brain tumor in 1996.
Pete Sampras, who Gullikson coached, kicked off the tournament with an exhibition game against former world No. 1 Llewellyn Hewitt on February 16. Sampras, the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles with 14, won the event in 1996.
Thanks to Hewitt, a number of St. Jude patients and their families were able to watch the anticipated match of former top players. Hewitt personally purchased 50 tickets for the families who were seated in a special section designated as “Hewitt’s House for St. Jude.”
On February 16, a number of players from the tournament visited the hospital including women’s No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki, Kristina Barrois, Natalie Grandin, Mashona Washington, Chin-Wei Chan, Kristina Barrois, Melaine Oudin, Amer Delic, Kevin Kim, Travis Parrott, Filip Polasek and Coach Scott Davidoff.
Eight-year-old Alex, who is being treated at St. Jude for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was excited about meeting the players. She got two autographed tennis balls and had her photo taken with some of the players.
“It’s very exciting,” said Alex’s mother about the visit. “It puts a smile on the kids’ faces.”
This year’s tournament will be the first for new owners Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment of San Jose, California, and Golden Set Holdings, LLC of Memphis. In addition to upgrading the club and stadium facilities, the new owners want to increase the presence of St. Jude in the event. Toward that, St. Jude patient Ellen Taylor opened the Sampras/Hewitt exhibition match with her rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and patients Juan Monserrat and Ty Waggoner carried the Sampras and Hewitt match bags to court.
"Our group is proud to be keeping the tournaments in Memphis, and we are particularly proud to continue and strengthen the longstanding relationship these tournaments have with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital," said Doug Carpenter, principal of carpenter sullivan sossaman and representative of Golden Set Holdings, LLC.
For more information, call the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships ticket office at (901) 765- 4401 or visit the tournament Web site at www.rmkchampionships.com.