IRVINE — John-Patrick Smith does not think about his ATP Tour ranking when he steps onto the court for the Orange County Breakers.
Some might think Smith would get blown off the court by the Sacramento Capitals' 6-foot-8 South African player, Kevin Anderson. Anderson is ranked No. 33 on the ATP Tour; Smith is ranked just 217.
In World Team Tennis, numbers like that can get thrown out the window. All the Orange County Breakers know is that Smith, the Australian, has helped them to the verge of the playoffs.
Smith defeated Anderson in men's singles for the second straight night, opening the match strong for the Breakers Wednesday night at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center. The Breakers went on to beat the Capitals as well for the second straight night, 21-18, moving into first place by themselves in the Western Conference.
The Breakers (6-6) moved past the Capitals (5-7), also ahead of Kansas City and Springfield (both 4-8). The top two teams in each conference advance to the WTT playoffs.
Orange County now controls its own destiny and can clinch a playoff berth by defeating Boston at home on Friday night.
Smith helped Orange County start big as he beat Anderson, 5-2, to open the match on Billie Jean King night.
"J.P. has a lot of energy, he's young and he's got a lot of upside," Breakers Coach Trevor Kronemann said. "You can see that he can play with those guys … the last two nights he's played really well with his forehand. He's doing a lot more with it than he did in the beginning of the season. I think he's seeing he's going to have to get a lot more depth on the ball."
Smith also teamed up with Travis Parrott in doubles to defeat Anderson and Mark Knowles, 5-3, to end the night and clinch the match for the hosts.
"I think I've been serving well and just relaxing," Smith said. "I'm just trying to stay as relaxed as I can and just enjoy it, like tonight … I feel like we're just staying positive. We've got a great group of people. We're all very down to earth and very aware of what we have to do to win, and I think that's the biggest thing going forward."
Jana Juricova also started women's singles off well, taking a 3-1 lead on Sacramento's Vania King. Sacramento Coach Wayne Bryan subbed in Newport Beach resident Coco Vandeweghe, who had a sizable cheering audience of friends and family present.
But Juricova battled back to win the set, 5-3. There was controversy on Juricova's third set point, a 3-all point. Juricova hit a service ace along the ad-court sideline to give the Breakers the set, despite the protests of Vandeweghe.
"Someone called it out," said Vandeweghe, appealing to the line judges, none of whom admitted to calling the serve out.
Vandeweghe got her revenge in mixed doubles. She was subbed in for King again, this time with the Capitals up 4-3. Vandeweghe held, pulling the visitors within 13-10 for the match.
King and Vandeweghe defeated marquee player Lindsay Davenport and Juricova, 5-3, in women's doubles, narrowing the Breakers' lead to 16-15. But Kronemann had seen it before.
"They brought their best, definitely, and we rose to the occasion," Kronemann said. "We let them back in that third and fourth set, and we were up by one [Tuesday] night headed into the fifth set [too]. We had already been in that situation; J.P. knew what to do and Travis held his nerves. It's a team effort; that's what it's all about. [We have] great camaraderie and everybody's doing well."
The Breakers finish up the regular season with their home match Friday against Boston and their regular-season finale Saturday against Philadelphia. Marquee player Mark Philippoussis is scheduled to visit Saturday night.
"We want to finish strong," Kronemann said. "We've won three in a row. They want to play well here, they want to win, which his awesome. It's great to be around a team that has lots of chemistry and is having a lot of fun, win or lose."
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