Saturday, July 24, 2010

WORLD TEAM TENNIS: PHILADELPHIA FREEDOMS BEAT THE NY BUZZ

(I was assigned to cover this Philadelphia Freedoms Team Tennis event by Richard Pagliaro, editor of TennisNow.com; thus, as contributing writer, I didn't have to pay to get in. You can see another version of this article on website: http://www.tennisnow.com/News/Featured-News/The-Buzz-Is-About-Philadelphia-Freedoms.aspx)
Philadelphia is often viewed as a step sister to New York, but its Philadelphia Freedoms had no trouble prevailing over the New York Buzz, 24-17, in their recent World Team Tennis encounter (July 21)at suburban Villanova University.

Martina Hingis was the Marquee player, and while her game may have had some bubbles on Monday against the New York Sportimes, by Wednesday this champagne champ came out somewhat flat and looked more like vin ordinaire.

The player with the fizz was the 19 year old Thai player Noppawan “Nok” Lertcheewakarn, who in women’s singles defeated Hingis 5-3. Hingis did win her mixed doubles match with Scoville Jenkins, 5-4, against the Freedoms team of Courtney Nagle and Prakash Amritraj. But in women’s doubles, she and partner Sarah Borwell lost 5-2 to the Freedoms team of Nok and Courtney Nagle. But Hingis is Hingis, so even with a defeat by a player ranked only 294, there is no need to Thai won on!


The crowd, which filled only about half the indoor stadium, the Pavilion, was there to see Hingis, (always this writer’s favorite player )who is still great, but didn’t look the Hingis of old.

Not on this particular night. Her game clearly had some rough edges and still lacks a sparkling serve, which averaged about 80 mph, but was bookended by 2 serves of 103 and 101mph. None of this should be surprising since she is not on the tour playing top players, and because she turns 30 next month--one of the reasons she cited on Wednesday for not returning to WTA tour tennis.

On the other hand, she said “It was great to be back at Wimbledon,” where she played an invitational doubles match with Anna Kournikova.(above) She acknowledged that continued doubles at the tour-level is not out of the question, “But I still have to get a partner.” She does have some exhibitions ahead of her. The unanswered question is whether she would want to play during the indoor season. Even so, she is glad to be on the Buzz team. While her passion for horses is well known, they are apparently in the stable for now. About returning to tennis, she had this to say: “Sports keep you fresh.” Here’s the comment I found most interesting:

“In the past few months I’ve played as much tennis as in the last three years.”

In reference to the current state of women’s tennis, now dominated by strong, tall women (see just how tall in Roseann Williams article, The Vertically Challenged Player, in the April archive), she responded this way to the question of whether she has to develop new strategies since she is a smaller player:

 “There are still some smaller players- Schiavone ( with the trophy)is small (nearly 5'6")and Stosur (outstretched) is not tall (nearly 5'7") Who would have thought 10 years ago that schiavone would win the French Open? On the slower playing surfaces the smaller players still have a chance. And on the faster surfaces, the smaller players can still do it.”
So let’s talk more about short. At just 5’ 6” and 132 lbs., (Hingis is taller by an inch) Noppawan (at left), who plays two handed on both sides, is a rock-solid fireplug whose game as is as solid as her muscular compact build. And it was a lot of fun to watch her hurl so much energy and precision at her opponents.

 Hingis sometimes had a tough time returning many of her shots, not because they were hit that hard, but because they came back fast and well placed. The slow pace of the Hingis serves was also an advantage for Lertcheewakarn, who with Courtney Nagle again defeated Hingis and partner Sarah Borwell 5-2 in women’s doubles.

Doubtless, however, it's a struggle to pronounce her name;  thankfully, she has the nickname Nok. But with her good game and strong confidence, Lertcheewakarn, currently ranked 294, could be a player to watch and a name we may get to know better. And, if someday she starts “Nok”ing ‘em dead, her tongue twister name will be a lot less troublesome.

She has an impressive record as a junior, and her junior highlights include one Grand Slam singles title (2009 Wimbledon) and three Grand Slam doubles titles, as well as the #1 ITF juniors ranking in 2008..She clearly is beginning to show some promise. When asked whether she is playing on the main tour, she is quick to let you know that as a wild card in the 2010 Malaysian Open, she achieved a first-round, straight sets victory over Ksenia Pervak-- her first-ever WTA main draw win. She is happy with the way her career is going, “but I need to improve a lot,” said this charming young player from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

But back to Hingis: When asked about her "pick” for the U.S. Open (August 30-September 12), she was coy, and exclaimed diplomatically, “I have no idea!”

 A few other notes about this event:

• I was sitting at the media table, which is practically on the court. I was behind a lines person so I was able to see her line calls. One of them was dead wrong. The ball was clearly out and she didn’t call it. No wonder John McEnroe got so furious with calls and made a spectacle of himself. In retrospect, that may not have been such a bad thing. In part, it was his tirades ultimately led to the use of video replay challenges. A really awful call against Serena Williams  cost her the quarter final match at the 2004 U.S. Open . I saw it on TV; the ball was about 2 feet inside the court, but was called out by an overrule from the umpire. This was the last straw and pushed professional tennis even further toward instant video replay.


• It can be dangerous for people to sit close to the court. Many “foul balls” are hit hard out of the court and into the stands and could bop a spectator in the head or chest.


• Hingis was interviewed by a WTT official at on open area in a section of the floor roped off for a private party. She could hardly be heard, which was disappointing.


• A ball boy about 7 years old was behind Hingis on her side of the court. She was very polite and sweet to him when she motioned to him to give her a ball for her serve. She was more businesslike when an adult was behind her.

• They just couldn’t get the crowd excited and to cheer on the Freedoms. Cheering and lively music are supposed to be a part of World Team Tennis matches. Maybe over time Freedoms fans will become less inhibited.


The new venue (at left; all WTT courts are multi-colored)  is something unusual for the Freedoms this year. They are now playing at an indoor facility that has air conditioning.

 It was a good time of the year to make the switch since area temperatures have climbed into the 90s for 27 days in 2010. For the past two seasons, Freedoms matches were played in a parking lot at the King of Prussia Mall, a highly congested and inhospitable location. Before that, the team’s home was at Cabrini College, an upscale Main Line location in Radnor, Pa. The Freedoms apparently grew out of Cabrini, which could no longer accommodate a growing fan base, went shopping and ended up at the mall.


As for the Villanova location, some were skeptical about whether indoor tennis during the outdoor season would draw spectators and attendance and it has been uneven. Not unexpectedly, the July 15 match with Andy Roddick was sold out, but the July 9 event with Ashley Harkleroad was sparsely attended. This is in stark contrast to matches in New York, which seem to field more marquee players. A case in point was the July 19 Sportimes-Buzz match, which included John McEnroe, Kim Clijsters, and Martina Hingis.

 

However, given the comfort and size of the Pavilion (which does hosts some exhibition matches during the winter) it appears that the switch was a very smart decision, at least for this year. How many people would have come out in 90 degree heat? Billie Jean King, who owns the Freedoms, has said that WTT intends to stick with the Pavilion, which should be heartening to all those who attend WTT matches there.

That crowd needs to grow. And from the players’ standpoint fans need to be less subdued, which, in contrast to New York, is the nature of a Philadelphia crowd. The low-key atmosphere prompted Freedoms the relatively reserved Prakash Amritraj to address the Freedoms fans on his side of the court:

“Let’s get a little noise in here! The most noise he got was the noise of victory when he defeated the towering 6’7” Alex Domijan, 5-3 in singles, and with his partner Ramon Delgado, in his 5-4 win over the Buzz duo of Alex Domijan\Scoville Jenkins.

Villanova is just a few miles from the City of Brotherly love, but the N.Y.Buzz, which are in last place and one behind the Freedoms in the WTT standings, got no love from their stepsister city. The results:


PHILADELPHIA FREEDOMS def. New York Buzz 24-17
• Men’s Singles – Prakash Amritraj (Freedoms) def. Alex Domijan (Buzz) 5-3


• Women’s Singles – Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (Freedoms) def. Martina Hingis (Buzz) 5-3


• Mixed Doubles – Martina Hingis\Scoville Jenkins (Buzz) def. Courtney Nagle\Prakash Amritraj (Freedoms) 5-4


• Women’s Doubles – Noppawan Lertcheewakarn\Courtney Nagle (Freedoms) def. Sarah Borwell\Martina Hingis (Buzz) 5-2


• Men’s Doubles – Prakash Amritraj\Ramon Delgado (Freedoms) def. Alex Domijan\Scoville Jenkins (Buzz) 5-4



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