Special K ready for Newport

She didn't need one, but Anne Keothavong got a sales pitch earlier this year from tennis legend Billie Jean King.

The World Team Tennis co-founder sought out Keothavong at a tournament in Indian Wells. King wanted Keothavong, the former longtimeBritish No. 1 women's tennis player, to play World Team Tennis this summer for the first time.

Keothavong said she was told that though the league schedule can be grueling, a number of players go on to have a successful summer tournament season.

"I took her word for it," Keothavong said, laughing, in a phone interview from London.

Keothavong made herself available and the Newport Beach Breakers reacted, taking her with the No. 1 overall pick in the WTT Draft. They'll get her services after she finishes a more pressing matter.

Keothavong, 27, is playing in her home tournament of Wimbledon this week. She defeated her countrywoman, Naomi Broady, 6-2, 6-4, in the first round Tuesday. Keothavong plays No. 8-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in a second-round match Wednesday.

Keothavong, ranked No. 111 in the world, has never advanced past the second round at Wimbledon. Her best Grand Slam showing was advancing to the third round of the U.S. Open in 2008. A win Wednesday would be a breakthrough, and the player some call "Special K" knows it.

"For all of usBritish players it's one place that you'd love to perform your best and show everyone how well you can play, despite all the pressure and expectations," she said.

There's less pressure in World Team Tennis, maybe more pressure to catch your flight as the Breakers will play 14 matches across the country in 18 nights. Their season begins July 5 at home against former world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport and the St. Louis Aces.

Breakers Coach Trevor Kronemann said when Keothavong was drafted that he was looking forward to coaching her, as well as holdover Marie-Eve Pelletier. The fifth-year coach has stressed, over the years, the importance of having top-notch women's players in this format. It's something the Breakers have maybe missed out on over the years. Despite having men's singles stalwarts such as former WTT MVP Ramon Delgado and, more recently, Lester Cook, they've made the playoffs just once in his four previous years as coach.

King's talk may have made Keothavong's commitment more firm, but she said World Team Tennis was always something she wanted to try.

"I've known about it for a long time," Keothavong said. "Each year there's other scheduling commitments; other tournaments have always got in the way. This year I thought, 'If I don't play this year I never will.' I wanted to commit myself. I'm really looking forward to playing for the Newport Beach Breakers.

"I've heard so much about it from [vice-president of player recruiting and league operations] Samantha [Shaw], and also Billie Jean King at Indian Wells earlier this year. She explained to me the whole concept of it, the team vibe. That's something that I really enjoy, because I've played Fed Cup for Great Britain for many years and I like the whole team aspect of that. That's what you get in World Team Tennis."

One might think Keothavong, who has been ranked as high as No. 48 in the world and earned more than $900,000 in winnings, might fit in well in glamorous Newport Beach. Breakers fans should like her enthusiasm, but there's no silver spoon at play here. Her parents both fled war-torn Laos during the 1970s, and they met and married in England.

Anne is the second of four children. She and her siblings learned the sport of tennis at a young age from her father, Somsak.

"My dad was a big tennis fan," said Keothavong, whose older brother, James, is a tennis umpire. "That's one of the first things he did when he arrived in London, go to Wimbledon. He was the one who introduced the game to us at a young age. It was a sport that was going to keep us active and get us, you know, out and about."

She has battled injury recently, having surgery on each of her knees, and she's dropped to No. 3 in the British women's tennis hierarchy. But Keothavong said she might have her best tennis ahead of her. She pointed to the recent French Open women's final, in which Li Na of China, 29, defeated 30-year-old Francesca Schiavone of Italy.

Call Keothavong a veteran of the tour, and she quickly jumps in.

"You make me sound really old," she said. "I'm only 27."

It's the perfect time for her to make her World Team Tennis debut. Billie Jean King said so.

"Once she talks, it's hard not to listen," Keothavong said, laughing again.

Newport Beach Breakers tickets are available at http://www.newportbeachbreakers.com or by calling (949) 660-1001.

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