By Andy Kamenetzky, Kevin Jackson and Miki Turner
Special to Page 3
Tennis pals Maria and Andy stuck together at Playboy's ESPY party in July.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- They would form one unbeatable doubles team, not to mention the type of photo-ready uber-couple that would drive the paparazzi into convulsions.
Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova, the crown prince and current "It Girl" of the tennis world, formed an inseparable tandem the night before the 13th annual ESPY Awards.
As Sharapova arrived on the red carpet for one of the pre-event parties Tuesday night at the Playboy Mansion, the statuesque Russian was asked to take a few photos with Roddick.
"Are you wearing heels?" Roddick blared from across the carpet. "I'm not taking a photo with you if you're taller than me."
Vaulting on his tiptoes, Roddick made his way over to snap a few shots with the 18-year-old superstar. The two spent much of the evening together, chatting each other up and watching the bouts for ESPN2's "Tuesday Night Fights." Roddick displayed plenty of enthusiasm and grew very animated when big blows were landed.
After the party, the two retired to the Tropicana Bar at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and were still lounging together poolside into the wee hours of the morning.
A blooming love match or just two champions from the same sport bonding? Don't ask us. This is Page 3, not The Star
Other scenes from the night at Hugh Hefner's pad:
• Patriots coach Bill Belichick chatted extensively with NFL super agent Drew Rosenhaus, discussing the offseason rumor mill, including the contract status of Rosenhaus' best-known client, Eagles receiver Terrell Owens.
• While waiting for shuttle busses outside the party, Kevin Garnett hung out with unrestricted free-agent guard Tyronn Lue. Lue, who played with the Atlanta Hawks last season, also sat with KG at the Gatorade Luncheon the next day. Perhaps the Big Ticket is trying to convince Lue to buy a few heavy coats and run the point in Minny.
• Miami Heat point guard Damon Jones talked up a gaggle of bunnies while wearing his trademark sunglasses, the same shades the league banned him from wearing during his playoff postgame press conferences. The long arm of David Stern doesn't stretch inside the cofines of Chez Hef.
Jones later had a lengthy conversation with Sharapova near the Grotto. Sharapova, however, was a bit distracted because people kept stepping on her dress. Sharapova also found a new friend in tennis fan and ESPY host Matthew Perry, who held her drink for her while she took a call on her celly.
• Jones' teammate Dwyane Wade provided a thrill for a ring girl by posing for a few pics with her. It's a good sign you're a pretty big time athlete when you manage to take the breath away of a girl who turns heads at the Mansion. Wade's reaction? Smiling, but unfazed.
• Peyton Manning chatted with Perry and actor Kevin Pollack, who chided the Colts quarterback that he'd need to throw 50 TD passes in 2005 for it to be considered a successful season. A veteran of the Playboy Party (Manning guided his rookie brother, Eli, through the affair last year), the notoriously low-key QB, who was accompanied by his wife, seemed cool with the fanfare.
• Verne Troyer (Mini-Me) was so into the fights that he grew a bit agitated when a few folks blocked his view of the ring.
• Jerome Bettis was laughing it up with a few fans saying, "For 13 years, I've had people come up to me and say, 'I could take you!' " Always chuckling it off, The Bus usually reminds these armchair athletes that it's a little different when he's running at them.
• Donovon McNabb took time away from eating to quickly introduce himself to Sharapova, who, along with Roddick, might have been the most popular athletes in the house.
• One party-goer walked past North Carolina basketball star Sean May, gave him a fist bump and told him, "Much love, baby! Good luck." May seemed a bit startled by the star treatment.
Playboy's Hugh Hefner's pad.
• Amare Stoudemire spotted Roddick across the bar by the pool and yelled "Yo, Roddick!" Roddick smiled and gestured back his way.
• Biz Markie worked the turntables, as he did last year. Platforms were set up on the lawn for fire dancers, who boogied while spinning fiery batons. As the night got late, they were replaced by go-go dancers in skimpy red, white and blue outfits.
• Sergio Mora, Alfonso Gomez and Joey Gilbert of NBC's "The Contender" were pretty psyched to be in the mix. Mora, who beat Peter Manfredo Jr. in the finale to claim the $1 million grand prize, perhaps said it best. "I've gone from East L.A. to the Playboy Mansion! Man, I can't believe it!"
• Judging by the bling he was sporting, NFL rookie Braylon Edwards apparently has put a dent in his advance from the Cleveland Browns. Edwards was wearing an iced-out watch, an 18-inch diamond necklace and a pair of diamond studs in his ears.
Mia St. John announced her next fight. The IBF champ will duke it out with "Contender" champ Sergio Mora for ESPN Hollywood. The Vegas odds aren't out yet, but St. John seems to think she has an edge. "We'll see who the real champ is," she said.
• Although the Playboy bunnies are the main attraction at these soirees, more than one athlete voiced his disappointment over bunnies on duty Tuesday. They were a little long in the tooth. One NFL player said: "These aren't the bunnies, these are the rabbits." Ouch.
One of the many scenes at the Playboy mansion