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Tennis Champs Are from Venus

You know what Venus Williams can do with a tennis racket, but have you seen what she can do with some color swatches and a design budget? How about what she can do on the craps table? The multitalented superstar -- along with her friend and rival Jennifer Capriati -- is throwing one hell of a party this weekend: the Swingtime charity event to benefit the Tim & Tom Gullikson Foundation. Tennis pro Tim Gullikson passed away in 1996 at age 44 after developing brain cancer; now his brother Tom (Capriati's onetime coach) and the rest of the tennis universe have banded together to raise money for cancer research.

Williams is an ideal lady to have at the helm -- not just because she draws an adoring crowd but because she happens to have an interior decorating company, V Starr Interiors, that's handling the party planning. Her work will be unveiled Friday during a "Casino Night" party at the Palm Beach Convention Center (650 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach). We tried to get Williams on the horn to tell us all about the décor, but she was in class at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, finishing her degree in fashion, when we called. Her senior design manager, Meighan Coger, did tell us that the ladies have chosen a turquoise and steel-gray color scheme. The centerpieces, she says, "incorporate glass containers with tennis balls and poker chips, with a floral arrangement." According to Coger, Venus and company managed to make that combo look "elegant."

After staring at the centerpieces, you can play poker, roulette, and craps with Williams and Capriati, plus Olympic silver medalist Mardy Fish and 17-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert. Other party people on the guest list include Jim Courier, Stan Smith, Todd Martin, Mary Joe Fernandez, James Blake, Robby Ginepri, Aaron Krickstein, Corina Morariu, Brenda Schultz-McCarthy, Gigi Fernandez, Kathy Rinaldi, and Justin Gimelstob. Long jumper Bob Beamon, baseball's Keith Hernandez and Bill Gullickson, and football Hall of Famer Paul Warfield also plan to stop by.

Of course, this kind of hobnobbing will cost ya -- $200 a plate, to be exact. Or you could pay just $55 for a box seat or $35 for a general admission ticket and observe these creatures in their natural habitat -- on the tennis courts at the Ibis Golf and Country Club (8850 Ibis Blvd., West Palm Beach). At 1 p.m. Saturday, Evert and Gullikson pound balls at Smith and Fernandez in a mean doubles match, followed by Gimelstob and Grayson Oliver versus Ginepri and Jeff Morrison. Then Mardy Fish takes on Blake in a singles match, and Williams wraps it up by pairing with Martin to face Capriati and Courier. Sunday morning, most of the guys will participate in a golf tournament at Ibis -- and you can too, for $1,550. But Venus? She'll probably still be in bed. And the cancer? It better run, 'cause it's up against a crew that sure isn't used to losing. -- Deirdra Funcheon

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