Breakers Edge Agassi's Freedoms
By Steve Pratt Saturday, July 19, 2009
Andre Agassi’s "Image is Everything" campaign still reigns supreme as the sellout crowd of 2,000 at Breakers Stadium at Newport Beach Country Club greeted his pre-match introduction with a standing ovation. However, the lasting image upon the conclusion of Friday’s Advanta World TeamTennis Pro League match was one of Ramon Delgado conquering yet another tennis legend and entrenching the reigning WTT Male MVP as the league’s dominant singles player.
Six days after beating Michael Chang and securing a Breakers victory, Delgado beat Agassi in the final set of the night and the Breakers, beginning their season-ending, four-match homestand, withstood the Agassi challenge and captured a 23-18 victory.
"I only beat them when they retire," Delgado joked. "It really pumps me up to play these guys, but it’s really an honor. At least I can say I beat him (Agassi) once. We played four times (on the ATP Tour). We played in the U.S. Open, in the third round in 2001 and 2002. One other time, I had match points against him."
The Breakers (7-4) will clinch the Western Conference’s second and final playoff spot Sunday with a win at home against the Sacramento Capitals, a team the Breakers have beaten in each of their three matchups this season. The Breakers last made the playoffs in 2006, the last of three consecutive years in which the team reached the WTT Finals. The Springfield Lasers (10-0), WTT’s only perfect team, have clinched the Western Conference crown and will host the WTT playoffs’ Western Conference final on July 24.
"To go 4-0 against Sacramento would be great," Breakers second-year player and Newport Beach native Kaes Van’t Hof said. "Sacramento is definitely our rival. With them, we have NorCal-SoCal."
Agassi, the former World No.1 who retired from the ATP Tour since 2006, made his WTT debut in Orange County Friday in front of his wife, women’s tennis legend and longtime World No. 1 Steffi Graf, two children, and friend and Laguna Beach resident Lindsay Davenport. He opened the match with a win in mixed doubles with Lisa Raymond, played to the crowd with multiple gestures and elicited oohs and aahs with his shot-making.
Delgado and Van’t Hof topped Agassi and Nathan Healey in men’s doubles, 5-2, to rally the Breakers to their first lead of the night, 13-12, after three sets. Marie-Eve Pelletier and Julie Ditty gave the Breakers a 18-15 lead by defeating Lisa Raymond and Madison Keys in women’s doubles, 5-3. Delgado closed out the match with an impressive set of serving and groundstrokes in a 5-2 victory over Agassi.
"Today I was reflecting on when I used to watch him (Agassi). I was born in 1986 so my whole junior career, I was watching him," Van’t Hof said. "I idolized him. We played well tonight. I’m getting confidence because Ramon and I are the best doubles team in the league."
Agassi, 39, played the last of two matches for Philadelphia (4-7) on Friday. This WTT season marked his return to organized professional tennis since retiring from the ATP Tour in 2006. He previously played in WTT for Sacramento from 2002-04. He is the only player in tennis history to win all four Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal, at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Agassi won Wimbledon in 1992, the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1999, the Australian Open in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003, and the 1999 French Open.
"The first reason why I'm playing World TeamTennis is because of (Breakers co-owner and WTT co-founder) Billie Jean (King)," Agassi said. "The short answer is she asked me. The long answer is I have a great deal of respect for her contributions to tennis, to sports, to anybody who has a daughter, anybody who has a mother. She has changed the landscape for all of us. I forgot how competitive it is. I thought it would just be pretty easy, play five games, you get to sit down. But it's highly competitive.
"If I can come out here and make a difference and people have fun as a result of it, I get to see a lot of old friends, get to connect with a game that's been very kind to me, then that's a win across the board. This is a great environment to do it."
Agassi, teaming with two-time WTT Female MVP, two-time WTT champion and nine-time Grand Slam doubles champion Raymond, helped the Freedoms to a first-set tiebreaker victory, 5-4. Full of smiles, Agassi buckled down in the tiebreaker and won the last two points of the tiebreak with a lunging backhand return down the line and a backhand volley down the middle of the court to take the tiebreak, 5-2.
The Breakers’ task didn’t get easier in the second set of the night, women’s singles, against Philadephia’s Madison Keys, the youngest player in WTT this season at 14. Keys has played beyond her years this week, already dispatching reigning Wimbledon champion Serena Williams 5-1 on Monday. The Breakers’ Marie-Eve Pelletier put up a valiant fight, but fell to the junior phenom, 5-4 (5-3 in the tiebreak).
Before the match, Kronemann was honored by WTT Commissioner Ilana Kloss for his 20 years of WTT service as a player and coach.
Mixed Doubles – Andre Agassi/Lisa Raymond (P) def. Kaes Van’t Hof/Julie Ditty (NB), 5-4 (5-2 tiebreak)
Women’s Singles – Madison Keys (P) def. Marie-Eve Pelletier (NB), 5-4 (5-3 tiebreak)
Men’s Doubles – Ramon Delgado/Van’t Hof (NB) def. Andre Agassi/Nathan Healey (P), 5-2
Women’s Doubles – Ditty/Pelletier (NB) def. Raymond/Keys (P), 5-3
Men’s Singles – Delgado (NB) def. Agassi (P), 5-3
Final: Newport Beach Breakers 23, Philadelphia Freedoms 18
A limited amount of tickets are available for the Maria Sharapova package – a two-match package for $60 that includes admission to the Breakers’ next match, 7:05 p.m. Sunday, July 19 against Sacramento, as well as their regular season finale on Wednesday, July 22 vs. Kansas City, a match in which Maria Sharapova will play for the Breakers – and the Breakers’ July 21 match vs. John McEnroe and the New York Sportimes. Tickets and team information can be obtained at www.NewportBeachBreakers.com
or by calling the ticket office at 714-352-6301