Breakers dance party

NEWPORT BEACH — The first super tiebreaker of the year came suddenly for the Newport Beach Breakers Tuesday night at The Tennis Club Newport Beach.

Eventually, it went to 6-6. The first team to seven wins the match.

Lester Cook and David Martin made it one to remember, winning that 6-6 point after two solid volleys by Martin as the Breakers escaped with a 19-18 win over the Kansas City Explorers.

Maria Sharapova almost packed the seats; the Breakers' marquee player was the star. But, in the end, it was Cook and Martin who took center stage against Kansas City's Samuel Groth and Ricardo Mello.

The Breakers' duo won the final set of the match, 5-3, tying the score and forcing that super tiebreaker. And, while Newport Beach won't make the World Team Tennis playoffs, the excitement rippled through the stadium after Martin's second volley forced a mishit long by Groth. Cook and Martin were down 6-4 in the super tiebreaker after two huge serves by Groth, but found a way back.

"Lester and I actually were looking forward to it the whole year," said Martin, a Huntington Beach resident. "We were hoping it was going to come down to a super 'breaker with us playing doubles. We've played a few tournaments, we get along so well. It was fun to get an opportunity to do it, and to do it on the last point was really exciting. I just wish I put that first volley away, instead of having to hit two balls, but we'll take it.

"…That's definitely the great thing about Team Tennis, that excitement and it coming down to the final point."

Newport Beach (5-7), which lost three of four matches to Kansas City (7-5) this year, is officially eliminated from the playoffs with two matches to go. Two teams make the playoffs out of the Western Conference. The Breakers can't catch first-place Springfield and second-place Kansas City owns a head-to-head tiebreaker should the Breakers and Explorers both finish 7-7.

This is the third time in four years that the Breakers have missed the playoffs, not helped by a tough three-match road trip over the weekend where they lost all three against conference foes.

Sacramento's Jarmila Groth was supposed to be the victim Tuesday in women's singles, one of three sets Sharapova was playing. Instead, Groth flipped the match on its head. She beat Sharapova, 5-0, in the shocking fourth set, giving the visiting Explorers a lead they held until the Breakers' late rally.

The Breakers did take a 13-10 lead into women's singles before Groth, ranked No. 76 on the WTA Tour, blanked Sharapova, the former world No. 1 who is currently ranked No. 15.

"I've been getting better with each match," Groth said. "I played one [Monday] against Vania [King] where I won, 5-1. It was her first match, so she didn't have much time to adapt. I'm sure it was very difficult, and the lights didn't help as well. I haven't seen her since Wimbledon and I've been playing here since Wimbledon as well, so I don't really know if she was playing at all. But I still thought I played pretty well."

Sharapova, the three-time Grand Slam singles champion playing in her only WTT match of the year, appeared to be rounding back into form after battling a shoulder injury the past couple years and an elbow injury earlier this year. She reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon earlier this month before losing to eventual champion Serena Williams.

The marquee player hit some huge shots, but lost two of the three sets she played. The Breakers fell behind early as Sharapova and Martin fell to Kansas City's husband and wife combo of the Groths, 5-3. That dropped the Breakers to just 3-9 in mixed doubles sets this year.

Newport Beach rallied. Sharapova and Marie-Eve Pelletier handled Jarmila Groth and Kveta Peschke in women's doubles, 5-3. And then the Breakers' Cook took out Kansas City's Mello, 5-2, in men's singles.

Kronemann switched around the lineup; usually Cook plays the final set at home. On Tuesday night Cook also avenged a 5-3 loss to Mello when the teams played Friday in Kansas City, and he beat the Brazilian for the third time in four meetings this year.

Cook, like the team, had a rough road trip. He went into it ranked No. 1 in the league in men's singles but dropped all three of his sets on the road.

"In this format, you don't have time to be on your back foot, looking for opportunities," Kronemann said. "You've got to have your foot on the gas pedal going forward, right away. That's something we've tried to get Lester to understand, and he did a little bit better job tonight of not being so much on the back foot."

Newport Beach plays first-place Springfield at home tonight. On Thursday, in their final match, the Breakers entertain John McEnroe and the New York Sportimes.

"You've got four great players on that bench who are not going to give up," Kronemann said. "We don't want to have a losing season.

"If we can finish .500 then I think that's the goal we'll have for the next two nights."

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