Breakers make playoffs

IRVINE — The Orange County Breakers have a fascinating mix of talent this season.

Consider that during their current four-match winning streak, they have had two World Team Tennis rookies – John-Patrick Smith and Jana Juricova – playing men's and women's singles for them.

They have a men's doubles player, Travis Parrott, who Coach Trevor Kronemann said plans to retire at the end of this year. And of course they have the former world No. 1, Lindsay Davenport, who is in her 10th season playing in the league.

Most of all, they appear to be having tons of fun.

This is his most bonded and gelled team in 23 years associated with WTT, Kronemann said after Friday night's 21-13 victory over Boston at UC Irvine's Bren Events Center. The 2012 Breakers also have a chance to be one of his best.

Friday's victory was huge. With one regular-season match left, Orange County (7-6) clinched the top spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Breakers, making their first playoff appearance since 2009, will play Sacramento in the WTT Western Conference Championship on Sept. 15 in Charleston, S.C.

"Everybody's loose and getting their jobs done, which is great," Kronemann said. "It makes it a lot easier. Not that we had issues in the past with team chemistry, but for some reason this team feels like everybody's out to win and do their part. We don't really have a hole. I mean, we're going to get Anna-Lena [Groenefeld] back [for the playoffs], and what are we going to do? We have a lot of options, which is going to be good to have come South Carolina.

"The good news is that we've peaked at the right time."

The Breakers won four of five sets Friday night. Smith started it off in men's singles with his sixth straight victory, defeatingJan-Michael Gambill, 5-3. Smith rallied from a 3-1 deficit.

"He's got the game," Kronemann said. "He's the real deal. It will not surprise me to see him in theU.S. Openand through [qualifiers]. He's tough, he serves well, returns well. His ball is nasty enough to just make everything interesting for the other players."

Juricova then continued her recent strong play with a 5-2 women's singles victory over Irina Falconi. Juricova, the 2011 NCAA women's singles champ at UC Berkeley, has settled into her current role as the team's women's singles player nicely.

"We knew we had to step it up after a few losses last week," Juricova said. "A few of the matches could have been better, but the important thing is that we were able to turn it around … From the first day it's been amazing. Everyone is so nice and supportive. Yes, we do jokes. Luckily, I [haven't been] the one, the victim, but I think it's coming. Especially with J.P. [on the team]; he's the crazy one. So yeah, it's been really great for me to join the team. We want to hang out together all the time, so it's really fun."

The Lobsters (5-8) got their one set victory in mixed doubles, when Carly Gullickson-Eagle and Eric Butorac topped Smith and Davenport, 5-1. But the Breakers immediately responded. Juricova and Davenport rallied to win the last four games and defeat Gullickson-Eagle and Falconi, 5-3, in women's doubles. That gave Orange County a 16-13 lead headed into the last set.

Parrott and Smith then played perhaps their best men's doubles set of the season, blanking Gambill and Butorac, 5-0.

"He's retiring when all this is all said and done," Kronemann said of Parrott, 31. "I understand where he's at, where his thought process is. All of a sudden you're thinking, 'I've got a job coming.' He's got twins coming; he's got a lot of life-changing things in front of him. He's going to have fun with [the tennis], and that's when he's played his best, when he's having fun and being energetic out there. He did that tonight."

The Breakers hung out for quite a while on the court after Friday's match, joking with each other and later with the team's owner, tennis legend Billie Jean King. They'll be back out there Saturday night, when they have their regular-season finale against visiting Philadelphia at 7 p.m.

Philadelphia will feature marquee player Mark Philippoussis for Saturday's match, which is Breakers Fan Appreciation Night.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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