Fever-Liberty Preview
By VIN A. CHERWOO, AP Sports Writer

NEW YORK (AP) Move over, Roger Federer. Venus and Serena Williams, too. The WNBA is taking over center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Since opening in 1997, the world's largest outdoor tennis-only venue has been the main stadium for the U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. It's where the Williams sisters have won two women's titles each, and Federer the last four men's championships.

On Saturday night, there will be a different ball bouncing on the court when the New York Liberty host the Indiana Fever in the first outdoor regular-season game in professional basketball history - men's or women's.

"I've always my whole career wanted to be a standard-bearer, and we've done that,'' Liberty president and general manager Carol Blazejowski said. "We've done that by being a charter member in this league, by (playing at) Radio City (Music Hall), and we've done it by taking the game outside. Quite a leap of faith, but a risk worth taking.''

The Liberty played six games at Radio City in 2004 while the Republican Convention took over Madison Square Garden. Now, the team is excited to have another opportunity to make history.

"This has to be, if not the same, even more exciting,'' said Shameka Christon, who along with Erin Thorn are the only remaining players from the team four years ago. "Just to be the first to say, 'We did that.' No one can take that away. I'm a part of two historical milestones. It's really great.''

The Liberty held their first practice on the outdoor court Friday night as the players tried to get a feel for the environment.

"It's going to be trial and error for everybody,'' point guard Loree Moore said. "We all played outdoors. Once you get that feel of it, and the first shot goes up and you catch some wind or you don't, you get to know how you need to shoot it.''

Christen doesn't expect it to affect her game, either.

"There's a little breeze, but it's not going to discourage me from shooting,'' she said. "If my shot doesn't fall, I'm just going to go to the basket. I told my teammates I don't know about the long distance 3s this time, but we'll see. I might launch a couple.''

Indiana, which played at home against Seattle on Friday night, practiced outdoors on July 10, taking their court into the parking lot of Conseco Fieldhouse, their home arena.

"I'm excited about it,'' Fever star Tamika Catchings said. "It'll be the first time in history, so anytime you make history it's important. It'll be a great atmosphere, just going out there.''

Catchings was also part of the first outdoor women's college game when Tennessee played Arizona State at Bank One Ballpark, the Arizona Diamondbacks' baseball stadium, on Dec. 27, 2000.

The Knicks' court, brought over in 226 pieces, was laid out on the surface at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday. The baskets and scorer's tables came over later that night after the Liberty's win against Washington at the Garden.

"To see the floor down, it looks amazing,'' coach Pat Coyle said. "It's wild. What a venue. What an awesome setting. I can't wait ... all the lights are on now but I can't wait till it gets dark and see what it looks like. That should be pretty cool.''

The Liberty Outdoor Classic will be the first non-tennis sporting event to be held at the Tennis Center.

"It's history. You love being part of history,'' said Coyle, who took over as head coach during the 2004 season. "In my career, this is the second time with the Liberty we're going to be part of history. ... Radio City was weird because there was nobody behind you and the noise came at you. ... Here, it'll be interesting.''

The game was scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start in hopes of avoiding the summer sun and heat, though the gametime temperature is expected to be around 88 degrees.

Although there is no forecast for rain, a makeup date is scheduled for Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

The capacity at Arthur Ashe Stadium is 23,226, and the Liberty had sold 17,963 tickets as of Thursday night, with the remaining tickets available Saturday.

"Our diehards are going to be here, but I think people are going to want to come out because of its bigness,'' Blazejowski said, "because of its significance with Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King. .. I think people will come out because it's one of the big events of the summer.''

The Liberty's attendance record at the Garden is 19,563, achieved three times - the last in a game against Charlotte on Aug. 11, 2002.

The NBA's Phoenix Suns defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in an outdoor preseason game on Sept. 24, 1972, at a baseball stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Suns are set to face the Denver Nuggets in another outdoor preseason game at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, Calif., on Oct. 11.

Calendar Strip here