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Orange County Breakers reloaded for 2019 season

Orange County Breakers general manager Allen Hardison.
General manager Allen Hardison has assembled a talented Orange County Breakers team that has its home debut July 20 at Palisades Tennis Club.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Luke Bambridge is a British tennis player, so it would be natural to assume that he has little connection to Newport Beach.

Bambridge will be playing in his debut World Team Tennis season this year for the Orange County Breakers, and he actually can’t wait to get to Newport Beach.

The parents of Bambridge’s girlfriend of nearly three years, Chandler, live on Balboa Island. That is little more than a stone’s throw from Palisades Tennis Club, where the Breakers will compete.

“It’s going to be like a home away from home,” Bambridge said. “It’s a great area, and I love it there. I know I’m going to be spoiled with things to do. I know if I get tired of restaurant food, I know I can go and get a home-cooked meal there.”

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Bambridge, 24, is a high-energy doubles guy for the Breakers, who open their season at Orlando on Monday, part of a four-match road trip to open the season. Orange County’s home opener is July 20 at 4 p.m. against the rival San Diego Aviators. It features two marquee players, former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka for the Breakers and up-and-coming Taylor Fritz for the Aviators.

Orange County has 14 total matches on the season, seven at Palisades and seven away. The goal is to finish in the top four in the eight-team league in the regular season, which would earn the Breakers a trip to the semifinals and possible finals on Aug. 2 and 3 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

The Breakers have won two World Team Tennis titles, in 2004 and 2017. But last year they finished 6-8 and failed to make the playoffs, and that didn’t sit well with Breakers general manager Allen Hardison.

“We tried to reload a little bit,” Hardison said. “Last year, probably for the first time since I’ve been the GM of this team, we had a losing season. It didn’t sit well with me. A lot of the fans really voiced their opinion on wanting some more stars, some more marquee [players].”

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Bambridge, fellow Brit James Ward, Andreja Klepac and Nicole Gibbs are expected to be full-season players for Orange County. The Breakers also have Azarenka for one match, and former Orange High and USC standout Steve Johnson returns for three home matches – July 22 against Springfield, July 23 against Philadelphia and July 24 against New York.

The Breakers will also feature Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard for the July 23 match. Bouchard, playing in her fifth WTT season, is the former world No. 5 player and Wimbledon singles finalist.

Ward, 32, was selected by the Breakers in the second round of the WTT draft. He has a career-singles ranking of 89 and, like Bambridge, is a WTT rookie.

Klepac, 33, enters her third season with the Breakers. She was the 2017 WTT Female MVP after leading the team to the championship and is currently ranked No. 22 in the world in doubles.

Gibbs, 26, is a Santa Monica resident and enters her fifth straight season with the franchise. The 2016 WTT Female MVP, Gibbs was diagnosed with a rare salivary gland cancer in the spring and is just now making a return to match play.

Having four roster players who have committed to the team for the whole season is an advantage, Hardison said.

“I think this squad, if I had to guess today, will definitely get into at least the semifinal,” he said. “We really feel like this team will peak right at the right time … If we can get into that semifinal weekend, I think we have as good as a shot as anybody to bring the title home again.”

Bambridge is certainly ready to play. He said that he watched a YouTube video of the Breakers’ match last season against the Washington Kastles recently, so he could familiarize himself with the league and its rules.

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“A big point for me that I think I’m going to take into every match is that I’m just not going to switch off,” he said. “I’m basically going to be as intense as I would be when I was playing, off the court as well. I’ll pretty much be living all five [sets], even though I’ll only be playing two, just on the side of the court really cheering on the team … I’m really looking forward to it.”

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Orange County Breakers

Home matches at Palisades Tennis Club

July 20 vs. San Diego, 4 p.m. (featuring Victoria Azarenka, Taylor Fritz)

July 22 vs. Springfield, 6 p.m. (Steve Johnson)

July 23 vs. Philadelphia, 6 p.m. (Steve Johnson, Eugenie Bouchard)

July 24 vs. New York, 6 p.m. (Steve Johnson)

July 27 vs. Las Vegas, 7 p.m.

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July 29 vs. Orlando, 6 p.m.

July 31 vs. Washington, 6 p.m.

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matthew.szabo@latimes.com

Twitter: @mjszabo


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