| By Brad Shafran
Photo credit: James Alfalla

Former Eastern tennis player Justin Gimelstob held a star-studded charity event supporting the Justin Gimelstob Children’s Fund on Dec. 2, 2010 at Centercourt Athletic Club in Chatham, N.J. The event featured a children’s tennis clinic, as well as two adult clinics which preceded a fun and well-played exhibition, featuring the all-star group of players on hand to support the event: Bob and Mike Bryan, Lindsay Davenport and Mary Jo Fernandez. In existence since 1998, the Fund has raised more than $1 million for various children’s causes.

Notably absent during the day was Grand Slam champion and America’s top-ranked player, Andy Roddick. As the evening’s tennis was set to begin, Gimelstob took the microphone to thank the crowd and break the news that Roddick would miss the event due to a family matter. The noticeable gasp from the audience was short-lived as Roddick’s replacement for the evening was quickly introduced—none other than 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras. While some of the younger kids in the crowd may have preferred to see the flashy Roddick, the intimate setting provided a surprising opportunity to see one of the greatest players in history in action.

According to Gimelstob, “I heard on Tuesday that Andy’s grandmother passed away, and as the headliner, he was going to be tough to replace. I knew I needed a big name and since Pete lives a few blocks from me, I went over to his house to give it a shot and he said ‘I’ll be there for you.’ All the players came out and played for free because they know how much it means to me and the Fund.”

The exhibition featured a mixed-doubles set with the Bryan Brothers and Davenport & Fernandez, as well as a set of doubles pitting the Bryans against Sampras & Gimelstob. The night concluded with Gimelstob taking on Sampras in singles. Throughout the night, Sampras showed he still has the powerful serve that helped him claim his many Grand Slams and all the players dazzled the crowd with their shot-making abilities.

I was fortunate to participate in one of the adult clinics and was thrilled to play some points against the pros. Although as cordial and friendly as could be hoped for, the pros certainly let their competitive side show when the ball was in play! Wayne Bryan, father of the Bryan Brothers and a tennis personality in his own right, served as the emcee for the clinic, as well as the exhibitions and helped add a humorous element to the action.

The evening also featured silent and live auctions to benefit The Valerie Fund, an organization supporting children with cancers and blood disorders.

“The Valerie Fund is a great organization doing incredible work so close to home,” said Gimelstob.

An amazing grouping of signed memorabilia and luxury packages, including U.S. Open tickets, rackets signed by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and an opportunity to play tennis with the Bryan Brothers helped raise over $100,000—in addition to the money raised from ticket sales and from “a great group of sponsors,” Gimelstob added.

Although not an annual event due to the logistical limitations, according to Justin, “This was the sixth live event we have done, and we have brought some great players to New Jersey and the club I grew up playing at. It’s great to see such a high level of tennis right at home.”


Pete Sampras & Justin Gimelstob took on The Bryan Brothers in a charity exhibition for the Justin Gimelstob Children’s Fund at Centercourt Athletic Club in Chatham, N.J.


The Bryan Brothers with Mary Jo Fernandez were on hand to hold adult and kid’s clinics


Pete Sampras, a last-minute replacement for Andy Roddick, impressed all those in attendance that even after retirement, he still has his powerful serve


Pete Sampras pauses for a photo with Julie Bliss, director of competition and player development for the USTA

Credit the following photos to James Alfalla

Mary Jo Fernandez high fives a player during one of the charity clinics


Photo credit: James Alfalla
Justin Gimelstob pauses during match play


Photo credit: James Alfalla
Justin Gimelstob and Pete Sampras discuss match strategy during their exhibition

Brad Shafran

<p>Brad Shafran is a full-time autograph dealer and part-time tennis pro at Bethpage Park Tennis Center. He can be reached by phone at 516 978-0094, e-mail brad@shafrancollectibles.com or visit www.shafrancollectibles.com.</p>