The Orange County Breakers kick off the World Team Tennis season on Sunday night against the Philadelphia Freedoms, and Breakers Stadium at Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach is ready for business.
The team was undefeated in seven home matches last season on the way to the WTT title, the second in program history and first since 2004. Fans who attend this season will notice even more seating options.
Breakers general manager Allen Hardison said 300 new seats were installed, bringing the total capacity for the venue to 1,250.
“We sold out five of our seven matches last year, and we felt like there was room for growth,” Hardison said. “We didn’t want to leave anybody out in the cold. Anybody who wants to attend a Breakers match, we want to make sure they can come in and enjoy this experience first-hand.”
Hardison said the overall fan experience is better this season. Among some of the additions, new LED lights have been installed, and the “Hawk-Eye” line calling system has been implemented via 12 cameras throughout the stadium.
Of course, the fans want to see another successful product in terms of wins and losses. Hardison believes he has that, as the team, again guided by coach Rick Leach, attempts to make the league title match for the fourth straight year.
“We’ve swapped out some pieces,” Hardison said. “No disrespect to anybody who’s left, but I think we’ve done a really good job of replacing all of those key pieces.”
Sam Querrey, the No. 13-ranked player on the ATP Tour, is the Breakers’ new marquee player. Querrey, originally from Thousand Oaks, will play three home matches – Sunday, Monday and July 22.
The team lost both of its male roster players from last year, WTT Male MVP Teymuraz Gabashvili and Rookie of the Year Ken Skupski. They will be replaced with Stephane Robert, who is in his second year in the league, and rookie Marcelo Demoliner.
Robert, 38, is a veteran from France who has been ranked as high as No. 50 in the world in singles. He recently got through qualifiers at Wimbledon, making it to the second round.
Leach, who played on the tour for nearly two decades, knows what it’s like to be a crafty veteran.
“He’s still a great player,” Leach said. “To stay on the tour that long, you have to be a good player.”
Demoliner, 29, is a doubles specialist from Brazil who Hardison said the fans in Newport Beach should like.
“I think the term for Marcelo is a showman,” Hardison said. “He loves big crowds. I’m sure he’ll thrive in this environment, with the music. He’s got that Brazilian fire in his belly. I think he’ll be a leader this year, and hopefully a fan favorite for many years to come.”
The Breakers did retain both of their female roster players from a year ago, Yanina Wickmayer and Andreja Klepac. Wickmayer is unavailable for the team’s home matches Sunday and Monday, so Nicole Gibbs will substitute.
Klepac and Wickmayer both earned league honors last year. Klepac, 32, was the WTT Female MVP while Wickmayer, 28, was the Rookie of the Year. They teamed to form a very successful women’s doubles team.
“I’m really thankful that they’re both coming back,” Leach said. “They’re really important for World Team Tennis because they can win sets …. A lot of times they can win 5-2, 5-1, and in the men’s it doesn’t happen as often.”
Orange County plays just three home matches in the early- to mid-part of the season, before it closes out the regular season with four home matches in the final week from July 29 to Aug. 2.
The goal remains to get back to the World Team Tennis title match, which is Aug. 5, and hoist the King Trophy again.
“We think we can get to another final,” Hardison said.
Also new this season, every World Team Tennis match will be streamed free of charge at www.wtt.tv.
Orange County Breakers
July 15 — Philadelphia, 5 p.m. (Sam Querrey)*
July 16 — Springfield, 6 p.m. (Sam Querrey)*
July 18 — at Washington
July 19 — at Philadelphia
July 20 — at Springfield
July 22 — San Diego, 5 p.m. (Sam Querrey)*
July 23 — at San Diego
July 25 — at Philadelphia
July 26 — at New York
July 28 — at San Diego
July 29 — New York, 5 p.m. (Mardy Fish playing for NY)*
July 31 — San Diego, 6 p.m.*
Aug. 1 — Springfield, 6 p.m.*
Aug. 2 — Washington, 6 p.m.*
Aug. 5 — WTT Finals, TBD