Justin Gimelstob, Chris Evert, Lindsay Davenport, Elisabeth Shue
When Elisabeth Shue joined CSI last year, she had one request.
"[Producers] asked me if there were any ideas I had or anything I'd like to do that would be fun, and I said, 'We should do a murder at a tennis tournament and we'll get professional players to come on.' I was half-joking, but I did really want to do it and I didn't necessarily think they would do it," Shue, a diehard tennis (and Roger Federer) fan and avid player, tells TVGuide.com. "Cut to the beginning of this season and they say, 'Oh, that tennis episode is really coming along.' 'What?!' I was just shocked, but so, so excited."
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Wednesday's CSI (10/9c, CBS) — which just so happens to air during the Australian Open — will see Shue's "dream episode" become a reality. Finn (Shue) leads the team's investigation of the murder of tennis player Tara Janssen (guest star Susie Abromeit), which occurs shortly after she beats her doubles partner Claudia Weber (guest star Brittany Shaw) for a singles title. Shue called on her pals and former pros-turned-commentators, 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert, three-time Grand Slam winner Lindsay Davenport and two-time mixed doubles Slam champ Justin Gimelstob, to guest-star as themselves.
"We were all happy to do it," Evert says. "I've known [Shue] a few years. She plays at my celebrity charity tournament every year and when she told me about possibly going on the show, I thought it would be fun, and it was. The funny thing was, I was worried about my lines and she was worried about hitting with me! I don't know why —she's a very good player. I was like, 'You can have 20 takes!'"
Shue, though, never thought she'd get even one. The actress says she made no request to play Evert and was "happily surprised" when she read the scene of her interrogating the former No. 1 during a rally after Finn interrupts Evert's hitting session, as seen in our sneak peek below.
"It was so surreal to play Chris and horrifying because I didn't get to warm up properly," Shue laughs. "It was raining and all of the sudden the skies cleared and it was like, 'OK, we have to do it right now!' I just wanted to hit the ball with her from the baseline, but then I was like, "That's so absurd. How would you interrogate someone from the baseline trying to hit the ball as hard as you can? That would be really stupid.' So I gave up my tennis ego for authenticity and volleyed. It kind of worked with me abruptly picking up the racquet of whoever she was playing with. Chris did such a great job and she was such a natural."
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Of course, it helps to be playing yourself — most of the time. While all three found the commentating and interviewing parts easy — Evert and Davenport ad-libbed their commentary to match what Abromeit and Shaw were doing on court — Davenport got stage fright when she learned that she was supposed to find Tara's dead body, in a ball machine, natch. "I totally chickened out!" she says. "After I got to the set and was around the crew and got more comfortable, I could've done it probably. But when I read it, I mean, I have such a small comfort zone anyway that even to be a commentator was a little frightening to me. Then they were like, 'Oh, you might find the body and talk to the investigators,' and that almost gave me a heart attack."
That meant Gimelstob got to do the honors — and get blood splatter all over himself. "It was a blast! I smell an Emmy: Best Ex-Professional Average Athlete/Broadcaster in a Cameo Role in a Drama Series," he jokes. "But there was a very interesting dynamic where everyone's quiet and you're doing your line where you realize, 'Am I acting? Am I being me?' There's a scene in 30 Rock where Alec Baldwin's doing an interview and he becomes very self-conscious and he's like, 'What do I do with my hands? Am I using my hands too much? Too little?' And I asked that with Ted [Danson]. Everyone was very sweet and super-patient with us. I just loved it all."
All three were also impressed with the accuracy in the script, noting that very minor changes were needed tennis-wise, and appreciated the extra steps producers took to ensure authenticity. That started with casting actresses who could actually play tennis, which helped "capture the essence and the drama of what a real match is like," Davenport says. Both Abromeit and Shaw played in college, and as fate would have it, Abromeit used to train at Evert's academy. "I saw her and we were like, 'Oh, my God!' We hadn't seen each other in, like, five years, so it was great to see her," Evert says. "I'm very proud of her. She left Duke and wanted to be an actress, so she's fulfilling her dream now. Susie always had a temper too, like [Tara] does. I reminded her of that!"
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It won't be a spoiler to say that neither Evert, Davenport nor Gimselstob is the culprit. Suspects include Tara's husband and former coach Ivan (guest star Ivan Sergei) and, naturally, Claudia. "It's a fun way to play up rivalries, although I always tried to be friends with everyone on tour," Davenport laughs. With Claudia being a suspect, "I immediately thought of Martina [Navratilova] and I, and who would kill who!" Evert quips about her celebrated rivalry and enduring friendship with her fellow all-time great.
All jokes aside, Evert, Davenport and Gimselstob are grateful that the sport in which love means nothing will get some much-deserved love outside of the courts. "I'm on the board of directors of the ATP, so I'm very invested in the sport being portrayed and publicized, and I think the fact that this will cross over into pop culture is very good," Gimelstob says. "It's fantastic for tennis and I can only hope it'll happen more often."
Perhaps on CSI again? "I hope so!" Shue says. "I loved the episode last year where we played softball against the vice cops. It would be hilarious to see a charity tennis tournament with the CSI players vs. the vice cops. Ted and me as doubles partners? We could start the episode playing tennis and then get word of a murder. Or maybe there'll just be tons of murders at tennis tournaments for some reason!"
CSI airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on CBS.