Team Tennis, the funny little league joined at the hip to a pizza company and handled with loving care by Commissioner Billie Jean King, is ready to take another stab at Orange County.
This is Team Tennis’ third try here in 12 years. The other teams--the Anaheim Oranges in 1978 and the California Oranges in 1983--folded quickly.
The latest venture, which calls the John Wayne Tennis Club in Newport Beach home, includes:
--Four players you’ve probably never heard of--including a 17-year-old--playing eight other teams with four players each. And you’ve probably never heard of them, either.
--A coach working for nothing. And who has ever heard of that?
--An owner who lives on the opposite coast.
--A 14-match schedule spread over four weeks.
Ladies and gentleman, introducing your Newport Beach Dukes!
The Dukes open their first season with an exhibition against a UC Irvine alumni team July 10, then begin for real against the Raleigh Edge, another new franchise, July 12 at John Wayne.
Thirteen matches against teams from Charlotte, N.C.; Los Angeles; Miami Beach; New Jersey; Sacramento; San Antonio, and Wellington, Fla., follow.
Filling out the Dukes’ roster will be:
--Marty Davis. A 31-year-old doubles specialist, Davis was a finalist at the Italian Open this year. He also was a former U.S. Davis Cup player and a three-time all-American at Cal.
--Roger Smith. He’s the No. 1-ranked player in his native Bahamas, but one wonders who his competition there is. Mychal Thompson perhaps? But his resume includes a victory over Ivan Lendl.
--Sophie Amiach. A firebrand born in Paris now living in Chicago, Amiach was half of the league’s top mixed doubles team at Sacramento last year.
--Amy Frazier. Three months shy of her 18th birthday, Frazier is ranked No. 20 in the world and Thursday defeated 15th-seeded Ros Fairbank in the third round at Wimbledon.
They will combine to play five sets against the opposition--men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Coaching the Dukes is Greg Patton, UC Irvine’s hyperbolic leader.
And he’s doing it for nothing. He has to. He can’t accept a dime or he’ll be in hot water with the NCAA.
Patton would have loved to have drafted former Anteaters Mike Briggs and Trevor Kronemann, but couldn’t.
Fred Lieberman, the Dukes’ owner/promoter who is from New York, handled the draft himself. Kronemann couldn’t have played anyway, since he was still at UCI and ineligible to be drafted.
With players who are familiar only to those who passionately scan the small type at the back of the sports pages, Patton may prove to be the Dukes’ top attraction.
This guy never met a mixed metaphor he didn’t like.
Of Davis, his star player, Patton said:
“He went to Berkeley. He’s so articulate. He’s going to make me look like Laurel and Hardy. Not Laurel and Hardy, but the Smothers Brothers. Which one was the smart guy? Dick? Yeah, that’s him. I’m the other one.”
Of coaching Amiach and Frazier, neither of whom he has met, Patton said:
“It’s like falling into an abyss. You don’t know what’s there. You could find an alien there. Or it could be something beautiful.”
Patton’s honed his shtick for 11 seasons at Irvine, where the Anteaters have won four consecutive Big West Conference titles. He also has been named conference coach of the year five times.
His first coaching job, at UC Santa Barbara in 1977, paid him $3,100 while he lived out of his van, which may account for his sense of humor.
At this point, Patton isn’t sure how much coaching he’ll be doing. After all, he’ll meet with the players for the first time July 9.
“It’ll be like a dating service,” said Patton. “All of a sudden we’ll see the video, then we’ll spend the next four weeks together.”
Lieberman, who has spent most of his 50 years in New York, is a tennis promoter and a good friend of Billie Jean King’s.
“She’d been talking to me about Team Tennis for years,” Lieberman said. This year, he decided to take King up on her offer to own a franchise.
When it came time to select a home base, Lieberman went cross-country, picking Newport Beach.
“I compare it to Southampton (N.Y.), which is very, very upscale,” he said. “When I look at Newport Beach I feel like I’m looking at Southampton except with great weather 12 months out of the year. And there are businesses growing out of the ground.”
Friends encouraged Lieberman to take a look for himself.
“There’s a heck of a marketplace out there,” Lieberman said.
Will the Dukes survive where Team Tennis has played on shaky ground?
As Lieberman points out, the league has changed considerably since its previous tries in Orange County.
The first team played World Team Tennis, which relied heavily on the sport’s stars; Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, among others, played the WTT.
The league attracted plenty of fans, but high salaries priced it out of existence.
“The owners were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars (paying the players’ salaries),” Lieberman said.
After a two-year hiatus, Team Tennis emerged with fewer stars and a streamlined schedule. But it still didn’t fly in Orange County. The California Oranges folded with barely a whimper.
Five years ago, Domino’s Pizza began funding the league and King became its commissioner. Since then, the league has been a success in cities like San Antonio, where the Racquets are about to begin their sixth season, and Sacramento, where the Capitals begin their fifth.
But it has folded quickly in cities such as Portland, Ore., and Fresno.
“I think (the Dukes) will be very entertaining,” Lieberman said. “In the promotion business, you take all the ingredients, throw them into a can and hope it turns out right.”
Ticket sales have been brisk, but not overwhelming, according to Whit Kenerson, the Dukes’ publicist.
“We’re being well-received in the community,” Lieberman said. “I don’t know how well we’ll be received (in terms of) how many people will show up.”
DUKES AT A GLANCE
UC Irvine men’s coach for 11 seasons, Patton led the Anteaters out of obscurity and into the national rankings. He led Irvine to its fourth consecutive Big West Conference championship and a berth at the NCAA playoffs this season. A good coach and a better post-match quote.
THE PLAYERS Sophie Amiach
She helped lead the Sacramento Capitals to the Team Tennis final last season before they lost to San Antonio. Amiach and Robert Van’t Hof were the leading money winners in mixed doubles play.
Rochester Hills, Mich.
At 17, Frazier is the youngest player in Team Tennis. A rookie who won’t turn 18 until September, she won the Virginia Slims of Oklahoma earlier this year and is ranked No. 20. She reached the semifinal at Indian Wells this year.
Harbor Bay Isle, Calif.
A former U.S. Davis Cup player, Davis reached the Italian Open doubles final and, with Jim Courier, extended Rick Leach and Jim Pugh to five sets in the Australian Open doubles final this year.
Smith was born in the Bahamas but played college tennis at Ohio State. He beat Ivan Lendl in 1988 and took eventual finalist Stefan Edberg to three sets in the Lipton championships earlier this year.
Years in league: First: Home court: John Wayne Tennis Club, Newport Beach
Capacity: 2,500: Tickets: $22 for box seats, $12 for reserved. Call 644-5800.
Coach: Jim Boykin
Roster: Mark Dickson, Donna Faber, Paul Koscielski, Ronni Reis
Years in league: Four
1989 record: 6-8
Home court: Charlotte Coliseum
New Jersey Stars
Coach: Phil Atkinson
Roster: Shane Barr, John Sullivan, Janine Thompson, Linda Harvey-Wild
Years in league: Four
1989 record: 10-4
Home court: Hamilton Park Club, Florham Park, N.J.
Coach: Jimmy Corn
Roster: Beth Herr, Tim Pawsat, Shaun Stafford, Tim Wilkison
Years in league: First year
1989 record: None
Home court: Raleigh Racquet Club
Miami Beach Breakers
Coach: Virginia Brown
Roster: Sandy Collins, Richard Schmidt, Cammy MacGregor, Greg Van Emburgh
Years in league: Five
1989 record: Did not play last season
Home court: Abel Holtz Stadium
Coach: Bobby Blair
Roster: Rick Brown, Jenny Byrne, Heather Ludloff, Scott Warner
Years in league: Two
1989 record: 6-8
Home court: Wellington Club, Wellington, Fla.
Los Angeles Strings
Coach: John Lloyd
Roster: Nick Brown, John Lloyd, Anne White, Robin White
Years in league: 10
1989 record: 6-8
Home court: The Forum
Coach: Dave Borelli
Roster: Maria Lindstrom, Michiel Schapers, Robert Van’t Hof, Tami Whitlinger
Years in league: Five
1989 record: 9-5
Home court: Gold River Racquet Club
San Antonio Racquets
Coach: Bob McKinley
Roster: Dacio Campos, Mary Lou Daniels, Sammy Giammalva, Elna Reinach
Years in league: Six
1989 record: 7-7 (league champions)
Home court: McFarlin Tennis Center
July 10--UC Irvine alumni, 7 p.m. *
July 12--RALEIGH, 7:30 p.m.
July 14--MIAMI BEACH, 7:30 p.m.
July 15--at San Antonio
July 17--at Wellington
July 18--at Raleigh
July 21--at Charlotte
July 22--at New Jersey
July 26--SACRAMENTO, 7:30 p.m.
July 27--at Los Angeles
July 28--LOS ANGELES, 7:30 p.m.
July 31--CHARLOTTE, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 2--SAN ANTONIO, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 3--LOS ANGELES, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 4--at Sacramento