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Zany world of media tennis events

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For the past five years I have been playing occasionally in what some of my more imaginative colleagues laughingly call celebrity tennis tournamants. Of course they are not celebrity related at all, but media events that are often preceded by rumors that this Hollywood personality or that TV star may make an appearance. The fact is I have yet to look across the net at one of these affairs and see anyone resembling Johnny Carson or Elke Sommer.

Basically these tournaments are the inventions of public relations firms that are trying to do their clients' business some good. By luring the media out to one of these events, they are able to show reporters new products they normally wouldn't walk across the street to examine. And it's all so wonderfully tax deductible for the company involved!

Let's say the Super Bowl is in town and some national sportswear manufacturer is bringing out a line of new spring clothes. What his PR representative does is get in touch with the National Football League and offer to underwrite a tennis tournament for the visiting media.

What happens is that an invitation to compete in this ''celebrity'' event is included in the same packet that contains the writer's or sportscaster's game credentials. At the event there is seldom any overt quest for publicity, but the new line is sure to be prominently displayed in the room where you lunch or the trophies are awarded. You are also given an elaborate press kit when you leave, just in case you should suddenly see an earth-shaking story in fuchsia warm-up suits with vertical stripes.

The lasting memories, however, come from playing in the tournament itself - and from the renewed friendships which frequently constitute a pleasant spinoff.


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