| By Jerry Solomon
Credit photo: Calvin Rhoden

When my longtime client and friend Ivan Lendl called me to tell me that Pete Sampras wanted to play Roger Federer back in 2007, we laughed and said it would never happen.

But I said to him if it is going to happen, it should happen at Madison Square Garden. There hadn't been tennis at the Garden in seven years at that point, and the days of the Masters and Virginia Slims Championships were a distant memory.

But not to me. And not to Ivan. And fortunately, not to the guys at the Garden.

I started my career in sports working at the first Colgate Grand Prix Masters held at the Garden and remember the night that 16,000 people stayed in their seats until well past 1:00 a.m. to watch Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Connors duke it out.

I was representing Ivan when he had a run-in with Jimmy in the Garden hallway over how he had manipulated the tournament's round-robin format. And I know how the MSG crowds react to superstars putting on a show that is worthy of their appreciation.

So, how could you put arguably the two best tennis players of all time anywhere other than center court at the World's Most Famous Arena?

Fortunately, when I walked into discuss this with Joel Fisher and Adam Thier in their Garden offices, they too remembered the history of tennis at the Garden and said "Yes.”

Of course there were risks and there are lots of stories behind the scenes about how the event almost didn't happen ... we joke about those now, but it was nerve-wracking for sure.

So with J. Wayne Richmond, Marisa D'Amico and Karen Scott Happer at my side, we marched into the unknown and 60 days prior to the event, put tickets on sale. Within a couple of weeks, we sold out The World’s Most Famous Arena.

Roger and Pete put on a great show, as Roger eked out a victory in a third set tie-breaker, in front of 19,690 fans which set the stage for what has become an annual night of tennis for New Yorkers.

Going back to Jack Kramer, Bobby Riggs, Billie Jean King and Vitas Gerulaitis, the star power of the sport of tennis has always attracted a celebrity-filled crowd to the Garden.

We have tried hard to build on that history, so over the last eight years, have had virtually every major star in the sport play at the BNP Paribas Showdown. In addition to Roger and Pete, the likes of John McEnroe, Andre Agassi, Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Kim Clijsters, Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Victoria Azarenka and more have graced the Garden court.

And a celebrity crowd has responded, including the likes of Bill Clinton, Ben Stiller, Donald Trump, Vera Wang, Nancy Kerrigan, Anna Wintour, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Rupert Murdoch and many others.

So we continue to try our best to carry on a tradition ... a legacy of tennis on the world's biggest stage … and this year will be no different.

We will feature fantastic tennis with 21-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams, former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, two-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka and the flamboyant French star Gael Monfils.

But it is Serena's presence that will get the most attention and with good reason. In part because of her Grand Slam singles and doubles titles, Olympic victories and number one rankings, Serena has probably been the most important female athlete in the world over the last 20 years.

Off the court, she has built schools in Africa, been Sports Illustrated’ s "Sportsperson of the Year," has been an ambassador for the United Nations, a staple on Home Shopping Network, a target for gossip columns and a role model for women around the world. 

She has had her share of ups and downs, but at the age of 34, she stands atop the sports world as one of her generations most outstanding and impactful people.

Over the years at the BNP Paribas Showdown, we have paid tribute to the U.S. Davis Cup team, Billie Jean King and Roy Emerson. This year, in addition to watching her play, we will honor Serena for her greatness on the court, but also for her tenacity, longevity and contributions that go far beyond the tennis courts.

We don't often get a chance to honor living legends. This will be another in those uniquely tennis moments that has made tennis timeless at Madison Square Garden. It will be exciting to be part of it.

Jerry Solomon

<p>Jerry Solomon is executive producer of the BNP Paribas Showdown and creator of World Tennis Day.</p>