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November 4, 2011

Tennis event raises $500K for AIDS Taskforce, Elton John charity

Cleveland--Elton John and Billie Jean King brought their World Team Tennis Smash Hits tournament to Cleveland on October 27, raising a half-million dollars for charity and breaking a 9-9 tie in previous events.

In addition to the exhibition games featuring some major tennis names, a live auction sold off some hugely impressive items. Included among these were two piano benches signed by Elton John, 45-minute hitting sessions with Andy Roddick and Martina Navratilova, packages with tickets and accommodation for the French Open, the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the Super Bowl, as well as two nights at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, along with two tickets to Elton John’s new show.

A number of the auction items were doubled. After a winning bid of $5,500 was put in for one piano bench, for instance, John offered to sign a second one for the second-place bidder.

It was the 19th annual event, and benefited the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland. In its almost two decades of existence, the WTT Smash Hits have raised over $10 million for charity.

Team Billie Jean was comprised of Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Jan-Michael Gambill and Coco Vandeweghe. Team Elton was made up of Sir Elton John, Andy Roddick, Amélie Mauresmo, Mark Knowles and Lauren Davis, who lives in the Cleveland suburb of Gates Mills.

The event took the coed team format, with one set each of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles.

In men’s doubles, Team Billie Jean took the early lead with McEnroe and Gambill defeating Roddick and Knowles 5-2. The women’s doubles also saw King’s team pulling ahead, with Navratilova and Vandeweghe overtaking Mauresmo and Davis 5-1.

In women’s singles, however, Davis defeated Vandeweghe 5-1, then in mixed doubles, Roddick and Mauresmo beat Gambill and Navratilova 5-4. Roddick beat Gambill in men’s singles 5-3, before also defeating him in the super-tiebreaker 1-0, tipping the scales of the series 10-9 in favor of Elton John.

In the celebrity match which did not count towards the final score, Elton John and Martina Navratilova defeated John McEnroe and Amélie Mauresmo.

Last year’s event, which was held in the Baltimore-Washington area, raised $267,000, proving that Cleveland rocks, almost doubling their total.

At the VIP reception in Public Hall, Elton John recalled playing his first Cleveland concert there. “It looks a bit better than it did then. It looks fantastic.”

While the Elton John AIDS Foundation is now 20 years old, there are still problems out there needing to be tackled. “The hard part is what to do with the money,” John noted, saying that one of the problems with the current highly active anti-retroviral treatments is “getting medicine to people who cannot afford it.”

He also said, “After 30 years, our biggest challenge is how to get rid of the stigma.”

Over a third of the money raised at WTT Smash Hits will stay in Cleveland, with $180,000 being donated to the AIDS Taskforce. That total is half of the live auction, which raised over $155,000 in total, and the $105,000 net proceeds from the pre-match reception.

“What an amazing event,” said Taskforce executive director Tracy Jones. “We are so thrilled to have been a part of it.”

“We cannot thank Sir Elton John, Billie Jean King and all of the players enough for helping us raise these much-needed dollars. Every penny will be put to work helping our clients live healthier, stronger lives and continue to help us fight the further spread of HIV,” she continued.

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