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Love, set, match in Beijing for Tampa wedding

Mega deal-maker David Shoemaker negotiates multimillion dollar contracts for a women's worldwide professional tennis tour. • Jennifer Hsiung broadcast sports news to millions of viewers on China Central Television. • It was all business when the two met working the Beijing sports scene — until it was not. By the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics, the score was love-all. • But where to wed? • In China, their home at the time? In Canada, where both were born? Thailand and Hawaii were contenders. • In the end, they chose Tampa, just across the bay from a home that Shoemaker owns on Snell Isle. • Stunning architecture, world-class cuisine and a Matisse exhibition lured them to have the first wedding at the new Tampa Museum of Art.

Shoemaker rose from general counsel to chief operating officer to president of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in five years. He closed television contracts and sponsorship agreements, oversaw tour rules and regulations and arranged tournaments from Bogota to Budapest.

But could he tell a bubbly brunet he was falling in love with her?

"We were never alone," he said. "Every time we went out, she brought a girlfriend along."

Their outings were professional, says Hsiung, "because I thought we were networking, which is so important in China."

Nearly a year passed before Shoemaker could tell "Bear" his feelings for her. (Hsiung means bear in Mandarin).

"I was a little shocked,'' she said. "He never made a move."

His boss, the head of the WTA, was their connection. Hsiung impressed him at a news conference. When he learned she was Canadian, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants to Toronto, he passed her business card to Shoemaker.

"He said I should meet her, that she could help me adjust to Beijing," recalled Shoemaker, who was moving there in the spring of 2008 to open the Asia-Pacific headquarters. "I think his actual words were something like, 'She's no wallflower.' "

Indeed not. Hsiung, now 27, anchored her first live sports show on government-run CCTV-9 within six weeks of traveling to Beijing in 2006. Her audience was foreigners, expats and people trying to learn English.

Ottawa-born Shoemaker, 39, was first in his class at the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Law. For seven years, he litigated sports disputes for a New York law firm. Clients included the Association of Tennis Professionals, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Florida Marlins.

Soon the couple were more than colleagues in the Forbidden City, busily improving their Mandarin language skills and prepping for the Summer Olympics.

• • •

Shoemaker secreted the diamond ring in his shaving kit when they left to spend the holidays with her family in Toronto, then with his parents and two sisters in Australia.

"I knew I wanted to propose in front of her family,'' he said, "a very Chinese thing to do."

But at a Swiss Chalet? The Canadian restaurant chain was the least romantic place he could imagine. But he couldn't let the moment pass as her parents, siblings and two aunts met for Sunday lunch.

Nervously, on one knee, he professed his love for Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken and Jennifer, who was suddenly blinded by tears and camera flashes. "Every Chinese person has a camera with them,'' she said, laughing.

Two days later, Hsiung met her future in-laws in Sydney. Then it was back to Beijing to spin the globe. The international guest list opened a world of possibilities as they sought a cosmopolitan wedding destination.

Florida in March didn't disappoint.

A promotion for the groom-to-be brought them back to the WTA's St. Petersburg headquarters in November 2009. Hearing that Mise en Place owner-chef Marty Blitz was named the exclusive caterer, plus the opening exhibition of drawings by Henri Matisse, clinched the Tampa Museum of Art.

Shoemaker signed on for dance lessons with Hsiung, whose father teaches Latin ballroom dancing. She took up tennis, the athletic groom's passion.

The wedding weekend began with a family dinner at the Hyde Park home of friends Marianne and Joe Guggino. The next evening was a hilarious karaoke dinner at Malio's Prime Steakhouse.

Joe Guggino officiated March 20 when they exchanged vows at sunset on the museum terrace. The bride changed into a red chiffon gown for dinner and dancing in the atrium. The first dance was a rumba.

Heart Beat is a summer series that features recent intriguing stories of love and marriage. Amy Scherzer can be reached at ascherzer@sptimes.com and (813) 226-3332.

Love, set, match in Beijing for Tampa wedding 06/10/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 10, 2010 11:45am]

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