Breakers have high hopes

IRVINE — Lindsay Davenport got to Southern California less than five hours before Monday's Orange County Breakers season opener.

The Breakers' marquee player was playing at Wimbledon the day before. She won the ladies' invitational doubles title with her former rival, another former world No. 1 in Martina Hingis.

Even marquee players can miss their flights.

"We finished probably at 4:30 [p.m.] London time [Sunday]," Davenport said. "My flight was at 4:30, so my family left without me. I obviously didn't make the flight. I spent the night in an airport hotel in Heathrow and flew out the next morning."

Davenport, a Laguna Beach resident, arrived at LAX shortly before 3 p.m. Monday. She said she had time for a quick trip home before the match began. She was thrown into her 10th World Team Tennis season right away, as mixed doubles and women's doubles were the first two sets of the night.

The OC Breakers, formerly the Newport Beach Breakers, played their first indoor home match in their 10-year history. They battled the defending WTT champion Washington Kastles to the end before falling, 22-18, before 952 fans at their new home, UC Irvine's Bren Events Center.

Davenport said it probably will take her a couple of matches to get up to the speed of World Team Tennis. She has time. She is playing every home match and three away matches for the Breakers.

The home squad looked strong. It came down to the final set, when the Breakers were just a point away from sending the match into overtime. But Washington's Bobby Reynolds outlasted the Breakers' John-Patrick Smith, 5-4, in men's singles. The tiebreaker score was also 5-4, as Reynolds clinched the match on a service ace out wide. He won the last three points to help the Kastles win their 17th straight match.

Last year, the Kastles had a perfect 16-0 record.

"There are not very many weak spots in their lineup," Breakers Coach Trevor Kronemann said. "All five spots are tough … They're a good team, and I think we've got a good team. We're not that far off. The final score is four games. We lost 5-1 in the first set, and I think that's really what it came down to.

"We have some youth mixed with some wise veterans. I think we're going to be good. Playing inside here, I think the matches are going to be much closer."

That 5-1 set was when the Kastles' Leander Paes and Anastasia Rodionova topped Davenport and Travis Parrott to open the match. Paes, one of the top doubles players in the world, came back from Wimbledon on the same flight as Davenport after making the finals in mixed doubles.

"Leander played tremendous, having come all the way from London," Kronemann said. "He gets back today, rocks in here at 3 o'clock and doesn't miss a ball. He basically missed two balls while he was out there for two sets."

Davenport and Anna-Lena Groenefeld defeated the sister combo of Anastasia and Arina Rodionova, 5-4. But Paes and Reynolds topped Parrott and Smith, 5-3, in men's doubles, giving the visitors a 14-9 lead after three sets.

Groenefeld was impressive, however, in her 5-3 women's singles victory over Anastasia Rodionova. The Breakers had a chance going into the last set, especially considering Smith defeated Reynolds on his way to winning the $50,000 Winnetka Challenger event over the weekend.

Neither player could break the other's serve, but this time Reynolds had answers. Kronemann said Smith, a four-time All-American at the University of Tennessee, still appears to be up to the challenge of playing World Team Tennis.

"It looks like he's going to actually be pretty good in the format," Kronemann said. "He warms up pretty quick and he's excited to play. I think he's going to fit in just nicely. Now he knows what to expect, and he can adjust whatever he needs to make adjustments on. He's a great singles player.

"We've got a very strong team. When you have three Grand Slam champions on one team [besides Davenport's titles, Groenefeld won 2009 Wimbledon mixed doubles and Parrott won 2009U.S. Openmixed doubles], I'm excited about having that. We'll see what we can do with it."

The Breakers have struggled in recent years, making the playoffs just once since 2006, but Davenport said she also is excited.

"They're really great people," she said. "I just met them tonight. I mean, I knew Anna-Lena, but I didn't know the other two. Super, super-nice and fun. We'll definitely have a good time."

The Breakers' next home match is Wednesday at 7 p.m. against the Kansas City Explorers. It will be Military Appreciation Night; the first 200 fans receive a WTT camouflage hat and the first 1,000 receive a Travis Parrott player card.

Former world No. 1 Tracy Austin will also be at Wednesday's match for sponsor visits and on-court promotions.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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