Szabo: Breakers clinic is tons of fun

I reacted quickly last month when Meg Broccolo, the Orange County Breakers' director of community relations and communications, asked me to participate in the Breakers' tennis clinic for season-ticket holders. I immediately said yes.

But when Tuesday afternoon came at the UC Irvine tennis courts, I became a bit nervous. After all, I didn't want to embarrass myself. Watching a lot of tennis for my job and playing the sport are two totally different things.

I do have a background in tennis. I follow the sport, and I played for three years at Monrovia High. My junior year, I was part of the No. 1 doubles team. My senior year, I played at No. 3 singles.

That was about 15 years ago now. I've played here and there since then, but mostly you could say I traded my synthetic gut strings for a real gut. I've joined tennis meet-up groups from time to time, but my participation in those groups ended when I stopped, well, meeting up.

Yet myself and about 20 Breakers season-ticket holders had lots of fun. Everyone from the Breakers was there, from General Manager Kerry Schneider and Coach Trevor Kronemann to players Steve Johnson, Treat Huey, Maria Elena Camerin and Liga Dekmeijere.

For a few minutes there, Dekmeijere and I formed quite a team in doubles. She just turned 30 in May, so maybe it was a 30-plus club thing. I'm not exaggerating when I say that she high-fived me three times (yes, I counted).

If I ever stop this sportswriting gig, I would like to play doubles with Dekmeijere.

The players could have been in a bad mood. The Breakers (6-7) have lost four straight matches headed into Wednesday's home finale against Springfield, and fallen out of playoff contention. But no, they were all smiles during both their team practice in the Bren Events Center and the ensuing clinic on the outside courts.

Kronemann, the UC Irvine men's tennis coach who is nicknamed "Tank," impressed with his doubles play during the practice. Someone told him they heard he was playing in Wednesday's season finale.

"I heard that, too," Johnson said to Kronemann, who started waving his finger "no" like shot-blocker Dikembe Mutombo did back in the day.

After the practice was the clinic. Kronemann spoke, thanking the season ticket-holders for their support.

Huey piped up, saying next year would be the Breakers' year. Johnson, as usual, had a quip.

"Kerry's not drafting you next year," he told Huey.

The season-ticket holders split into three courts, rotating to each one. I first played doubles against Johnson and Huey, no easy task. I had more success on the second court. I ruled the game of "King of the Hill" with Dekmeijere, who is ranked No. 76 in the world in doubles. Smartly, I let her do most of the work.

By now, from a sweat perspective, I was glad the clinic was almost over. On the third court was Kronemann, who served up doubles balls to participants, including Camerin. One of the other participants was Annie Smythe of Huntington Beach, who plays at SeaCliff Country Club.

I've written about Smythe before. Two years ago, she won a trip to the U.S. Open during a Breakers halftime game. She got to sit in Billie Jean King's box. During that summer she also met Schneider, in her capacity with the league before she became Breakers GM.

Smythe, who's been attending Breakers matches for several years, is one of the team's biggest fans.

"It's really nice being able to see the players up close," Smythe said. "When you're at Indian Wells, you're further away, or at the [U.S.] Open, you're further away. This is more of an intimate experience, because you're closer and you can hear them. You know what else I think is really cute, is the Geico timeout kids. Aren't they darling? That's such a cute thing."

Smythe was referring to the kids who run on the court during Breakers timeouts, holding up a big "timeout" sign that seems as big as them. The kids weren't there Tuesday, but the clinic ended after about an hour.

It made me want to play tennis again, rather than just watching. For that alone, it was time well spent, but hitting with pros wasn't so bad either.

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