- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

Zina Garrison’s tennis career was interrupted at an early age — not by an opponent’s blistering serve, but by high school English class.

Her mother adamantly insisted she get better grades before she could resume tournament play.

The Wimbledon finalist recalled that important lesson Saturday at the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation’s 2003 Tennis Ball, which raised more than $500,000 for WTEF programs to help inner-city children help themselves. Children take tennis lessons and receive educational counseling: a one-two punch aimed at propelling them to college and a successful life.

Miss Garrison’s experiences with a similar group during her formative years helps her effectively “connect with our kids,” WTEF Executive Director Wanda Pierce said.

It’s no wonder Miss Garrison, like many of the WTEF graduates, found good fortune.

“You need to have self-confidence [as well as] strategic thinking to play tennis,” said Ms. Pierce, who beamed when reporting that, for the sixth consecutive year, all graduating WTEF seniors will attend college on either academic or tennis scholarships.

This year’s gala at the Ritz-Carlton in Tysons Corner also featured Australian “Rocket” Rod Laver, who mingled happily in the crowd of about 400 fans and foundation supporters.

Mr. Laver was one of three recipients of the WTEF’s Champion of Tennis Award. Also honored were Sen. John Breaux, Louisiana Democrat, and former diplomat William H.G. Fitzgerald, a WTEF director since 1965.

The weekend-long festivities served notice that the Legg Mason Tennis Classic is up and running all week at the District’s William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center — yes, named after Saturday’s tireless 94-year-old honoree.

At a cocktail reception before Saturday’s dinner, Miss Garrison reflected on her hardscrabble past in Houston, Texas, and how a program akin to WTEF showed her the way.

“Tennis and education together allow you to have the discipline … every part of you comes out when you play,” she said.

The glamorous ex-athlete said WTEF tells students “anything is possible.”

Mr. Laver played the game when gentility and manners were the norm, not the exception. He chuckled over the zealous on-court escapades of some of today’s players and praised tennis-great Pete Sampras for his no-nonsense approach.

“He lets his racquet do the talking,” Mr. Laver said. “You’re not out there to be a movie star.”

Mr. Breaux, who recalled volleying one day with Andre Agassi as “the thrill of my life,” said the WTEF is much more than a sports group.

“It just doesn’t teach them to play tennis, it teaches them to learn,” the Louisiana Democrat said, looking dapper in a dark beige sports coat.

The foundation let its hair down Sunday for its annual Player’s Party at the Key Bridge Marriott Hotel in Rosslyn. The menu featured grilled burgers instead of the previous evening’s grilled salmon, and everyone from Todd Martin to rising star James Blake joined tennis’s Bryan Brothers band onstage.

The duo may not be burning up the charts, but Mike and Bob Bryan stand as the No. 1 doubles team in the world following their French Open victory last month.

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