Orange County Breakers win third World Team Tennis title
Members of championship teams often talk about peaking at the right time.
That’s important, whether it’s at the end of a months-long season or a two-week sprint.
The Orange County Breakers ended the 2021 World Team Tennis season playing some of their best tennis, and the King Trophy was their ultimate reward.
The Breakers beat the Springfield Lasers 21-13 in the league’s championship match Sunday afternoon at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Steve Johnson, the former Orange High and USC men’s tennis standout who has become a veteran on both the professional tour and in World Team Tennis for the Breakers, earned league MVP honors.
It’s the third league title for the Breakers, who also won titles in 2004 and 2017. The Breakers usually play their home matches at Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach, but all of the five-team league’s matches were played at a single site for the second straight year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Breakers (9-4), who had lost two of three regular season matches to the Lasers (8-5), came up big when it mattered the most.
“To be honest with you, it was a little unexpected, the way we turned the season around,” Breakers coach Rick Leach said in a phone interview. “I think we really didn’t reach our peak until the end. We started playing our best tennis the last couple of matches.”
Austin Krajicek, Tatjana Maria and Desirae Krawczyk were the other players who contributed Sunday for the Breakers, owned by Laguna Beach resident Eric Davidson.
Johnson and Leach were also part of the 2017 championship squad.
Leach said that though Saturday’s regular season-ending 23-14 win over Springfield didn’t matter as both teams had already clinched a finals berth, it gave Orange County some confidence.
“Everybody on the team played well at the same time, and that’s what it takes in Team Tennis,” Leach said. “We reached our potential. It was amazing to see how well everybody played.”
Johnson and Maria got Orange County off to a great start in the finals, in men’s singles and women’s singles, respectively. Johnson topped Springfield’s Denis Kudla 5-2, before Maria got past Asia Muhammad 5-2.
After Johnson and Krajicek beat Springfield’s Kudla and Marcelo Arevalo 5-1 in men’s doubles, the Breakers had a commanding 15-5 halftime lead.
“Stevie was just unbelievable this year in both singles and doubles,” said Breakers general manager Allen Hardison, also the league’s chief operating officer, in a phone interview. “It’s the best I think I’ve probably seen him play since he was playing the Olympics in 2016 and the top-ranked American. He brought his ‘A’ game. He was focused, definitely the leader of the team.”
Springfield’s Arevalo and Giuliana Olmos defeated Krajicek and Krawczyk 5-1 in mixed doubles, but the Breakers finished strong in women’s doubles. Maria and Krawczyk earned a 5-3 victory over Muhammad and Olmos.
Johnson joked around with his team during the post-match trophy ceremony.
“I wish I could say my team helped me, but I was the MVP,” he said facetiously as his teammates laughed. “It’s all on me, quite frankly, no thanks to ‘Des’ tonight. She didn’t think I’d actually say it, but I did.
“In all seriousness, what a great event. This is my seventh year of World Team Tennis, all of them playing for Orange County. I’ve loved every minute of it.”
All kidding aside, Orange County was able to come out on top. This year’s Breakers also featured Amanda Anisimova — who spent much of the season as the team’s women’s singles player — and Nate Lammons.
“Rick did a phenomenal job of making sure the team was invested,” Hardison said. “I think we did a great job of finding four or five players that really bought in. They just really enjoyed playing together … it’s super-exciting to get back on top here in 2021.”
As for when the team might play another match back in Orange County, that remains to be seen. The Breakers haven’t done so since the summer of 2019, months before the pandemic begins.
The league played its 2020 matches at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.
“It was another phenomenal season,” Hardison said. “We appreciate all the fans that came out, and the sponsorship was good. I think definitely something that we’re lacking right now at this neutral site that we’ve done the past two years is that home field, that home crowd environment, if you will.
“I don’t know what the format is going to be moving forward … with COVID, and the impact that it’s going to have on the travel and the player safety portion of it. But we’ve definitely got to figure out a way to have some more rooting interests.”
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