Team Tennis returns to Orange County for the first time in seven years tonight, but it's just for practice.
The Newport Beach Dukes debut with an exhibition match against a UC Irvine alumni team at 7 p.m. at John Wayne Tennis Club.
The UCI alumni team features former All-American Mike Briggs and Bruce Man Song Hing. All-American Trevor Kronemann was originally scheduled to play but was a late selection of the Charlotte Heat.
The Dukes' season begins for real against the Raleigh Edge, another new franchise, Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
The Dukes will play 13 additional matches--six at home, seven on the road--before the regular season ends Aug. 5. If they avoid last place in the four-team West Division, the Dukes will qualify for the Team Tennis playoffs.
The real task for the Dukes, however, may be survival.
Two other county-based Team Tennis franchises folded quickly--the Anaheim Oranges in 1978 and the California Oranges in 1983.
Neither was successful, financially or otherwise. The Anaheim Oranges lasted just one season. The California Oranges lasted just three, and their best record was 8-5 in 1983. Their final match, a 30-27 victory over the Dallas Stars, drew only 636 to the Newport Beach Tennis Club on July 29, 1983.
The Dukes begin their first season with high expectations, on the court and at the box office.
Marty Davis, a former Davis Cup player; Roger Smith, the top-ranked player in the Bahamas; Sophie Amiach, who played with league runner-up Sacramento last season, and 17-year-old Amy Frazier make up the Dukes' roster.
Greg Patton, men's tennis coach at UCI for 11 seasons, will serve as their coach.
"This is going to be a new experience for me," Patton said. "I want to have a dialogue with the men. Mostly, I'll be working with the women and the doubles. I'll treat them like they've been through it all before."
Ticket sales have been brisk, particularly for tonight's exhibition, a benefit for UCI's athletic department. But even Fred Lieberman, the Dukes' owner/promoter, said he isn't sure how many people will want to watch Team Tennis.