Dukes owner Fred Lieberman, Mr. Superstitious, didn’t bother coming to the World TeamTennis semifinals, figuring he’d jinx his undefeated team.
Lieberman, who was at the Dukes’ last two losses in the WTT finals, is lucky he stayed at home. He wouldn’t have wanted to witness what went on Friday night at the Gold River Racquet Club. The Idaho Sneakers, who lost six of their first eight matches, played perfectly and blew away the Dukes, 25-16, before 1,600 fans, most of whom were cheering for Idaho.
“I came in here pretty confident, but my players tried too hard,” Dukes Coach Angel Lopez said. “It’s too bad we played our worst match in the playoffs. It’s too bad we couldn’t have gotten rid of this in the regular season.”
The regular season was almost too easy for the Dukes, who only had two matches closer than four points. But from the beginning, the Dukes (14-1) knew Friday’s match would not be easy.
Zina Garrison Jackson and Larisa Neiland, the league’s top women’s doubles team, were soundly beaten by Manon Bollegraf and Amy Frazier, 6-2. Garrison came back to give the Dukes a short-lived lead with a 6-1 victory over Frazier.
But the match started to turn when Jon and Rick Leach from Laguna Beach upset Kelly Jones and Trevor Kronemann, the third ranked men’s doubles team, 6-4. The Leach brothers lost their first eight sets this season, but have won eight of their last nine.
Jon Leach, who helped lead USC to the NCAA championship two months ago, gave an indication of how he would play in singles against Kelly Jones, the WTT’s male MVP, by holding his serve three times in the doubles set.
Leach, who had lost to Jones twice in the regular season, then proceeded to destroy the top men’s singles player in team tennis, 6-2. He served four aces in the set and never let Jones get going. Meanwhile, brother Rick and father Dick, sat proudly on the Idaho bench.
“That’s the best set of tennis I’ve ever seen Jon play,” Rick said. “To beat the No. 1 guy in the league like that is a shock.”
Said Dick Leach, the USC men’s tennis coach: “That’s the best I’ve seen him serve in singles and doubles since he went to the Roscoe Tanner quick serve two years ago.”
Jon Leach, who lost seven of his first eight singles sets this season, said he wasn’t even thinking about beating Jones.
“I was just hoping I could keep the match close going into mixed doubles,” he said. “But potentially, I can hold my serve at love every game when I’m going well.”
Leach held his serve twice and then broke Jones to go up 3-1. He held his next two service games and then broke Jones again to end the set and give Idaho (10-6) a 19-14 lead heading into mixed doubles. A disgusted Jones threw his racket into the bench after the set.
“I felt for him,” Leach said. “Playing for USC, we were the No. 1 seeds for four straight years. I know what it’s like to play under pressure.”
The pressure didn’t seem to help Kronemann and Neiland either. The league’s top mixed doubles team was off its game and was routed by Bollegraf and Rick Leach, 6-2.
“What can you say,” Kronemann said. “They played great and we were flat. When they were 2-6, I wondered what was going on. They have way too much talent to be 2-6.”
Maybe Lieberman knew something.