Breakers surge into playoffs

IRVINE — Former world No. 1 women's tennis player Lindsay Davenport couldn't be sure what she had going into her 10th season of World Team Tennis.

What the Orange County Breakers have is one of their best teams in years.

They had already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference Finals before Saturday's regular-season finale against visiting Philadelphia. But, they still wanted to finish on a strong note.

The Breakers did that, defeating the Freedoms 21-15 for their fifth straight victory. Orange County (8-6) will play Sacramento (7-7) in the Western Conference Finals on Sept. 14 in Charleston, S.C. Washington (14-0) plays New York (9-5) in the Eastern Conference Finals the following day, and the winners meet for the WTT title on Sept. 16.

After Saturday's match, Davenport, a Laguna Beach resident who now has three children, talked about the fun she's had this year.

"These guys have been so great," said Davenport, the marquee player who played in all seven home matches for Orange County and three on the road. "I really feel like I've been so lucky in my Team Tennis teams over the years, because you never know what you're going to get with the draft. I'd never known, never heard of John-Patrick [Smith] before. I knew a little bit of Travis [Parrott], I never knew Jana [Juricova] and I knew Anna-Lena [Groenefeld], but that was it.

"At one point during the season we knew were going to lose Anna-Lena [for the Olympics] … [but] the team wins. You can't buy players; team chemistry will win. It certainly was true for us."

Smith continued his very strong play Saturday by beating Philadelphia marquee player Mark Philippoussis, a former top-10 player, 5-3, to open the match. Smith finished the regular season with seven straight men's singles wins. The Breakers finished the year second in the league in men's singles, only behind unbeaten Washington.

Juricova then was edged by Philadelphia's Karolina Pliskova, 5-4 in women's singles. Pliskova's sister, Kristyna, and Jordan Kerr then won in mixed doubles, 5-2. Davenport said she was feeling a bit of back pain in that set, and was subbed out for Juricova midway through.

The Freedoms led 12-11 after three sets, but Davenport and Juricova came back for a 5-3 women's doubles win over the Pliskova sisters. That gave Orange County a tenuous 16-15 lead headed into the final set.

But there, Smith and Parrott came through for their second straight 5-0 win in men's doubles. They topped Philippoussis and Kerr to cap the Breakers' fifth straight win.

"I can't believe, the whole season, all the 5-0 men's doubles matches," Breakers Coach Trevor Kronemann said. "You just don't have time to recover. You get broke once, you start putting pressure on yourself and you start applying the gas pedal probably a little bit too much. All of a sudden, it gets away from you. But our guys have played great.

"J.P. and Jana have played awesome since Jana started filling in for us, after Anna-Lena left. It's good to be on a five-match roll going into the playoffs. Everybody will be off playing a little bit, and hopefully we'll be able to make the final. That's what our goal is."

Kronemann said his team wanted to finish strong, especially after losing in Philadelphia earlier in the season. His team looks to continue with two more strong matches in September.

"It's youth and maturity," Kronemann said. "If you look at a lot of great teams, that's probably what you have. You need that spark of energy from the young guy [Smith], and you've got the wisdom of the veteran and the great champion [Davenport]. That's when you've got your cornerstones, and then you've just got to fill in in-between.

"Jana took a night or two to get going, then she got going, and Travis has played his role very well. Like I said, this has been the best team I've been around in a long time. Everybody's gelling, and we want to do well."

The Breakers have not made the WTT Finals since 2006 and won their lone WTT title in 2004. In the Western Conference Final, they will play a Sacramento team they beat three of four times in the regular season.

"They've gotten these great players to play against us every time, and the team has been able come through," Davenport said. "J.P. has played great every time we play Sacramento … we enjoy the challenge. Who knows what players they bring in September? They had so many different players this season."

The Breakers will get Groenefeld back in September.

Twitter: @mjszabo

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