Fresh Off First Victory, Buzz Look to Boil Lobsters
by Christopher Gerby
Tuesday night's well attended, locally televised win over John McEnroe and the New York
Sportimes was the first real high point in the New York Buzz's 2010 season. Now 1-6 on the
year, the mission for the Buzz coming back the following night was to avoid a letdown
against fellow Eastern Conference cellar dwellers, the 2-5 Boston Lobsters. This was one
for the die-hards, fans who were quite vocal in their support of a Buzz squad that finally
seemed to be heading in the right direction.
First set: women's singles -- Martina Hingis vs. Coco Vandeweghe
Coco Vandeweghe, the 18-year-old niece of former NBA star Kiki Vandeweghe, might
be a young American on the verge of a real breakthrough. Shortly before embarking on her
second season of World TeamTennis, Vandeweghe won a pair of challenger tournaments and
broke into the Top 200 in the WTA Tour rankings. Team Tennis has represented a step up in competition,
however, and Vandeweghe has struggled mightily. She entered Wednesday night winless in
singles, already beaten by her idol Lindsay Davenport and the Buzz's own Martina Hingis,
who spanked Vandeweghe 5-0 in Boston.
Powerfully built and standing 6 foot 1, Vandeweghe was on the right end of a physical
mismatch against Hingis. Once the ball was in play, however, it was all David over
Goliath. Balls were flying on Vandeweghe early and often, including a truly wretched
volley error that saw her lose serve to fall behind 2-0. Lobsters coach Bud Schultz
sprinted out to back of the court to have a few words with Vandeweghe, to no avail. Hingis
rolled through a love service hold, thumping a forehand winner for 3-0.
After the third game, Schultz jogged back out onto the court (perfectly legal in WTT)
and tried to get his frustrated young charge to settle down. Vandeweghe seamlessly juggled
two balls with one hand as she listened to her coach -- a feat that would be her most
impressive accomplishment in the set. Three points after this latest meeting of the minds,
Vandeweghe air mailed a backhand far beyond the baseline and loudly moaned, "Oh my God!"
Two more unforced errors followed. Vandeweghe was now down 4-0, having lost all nine
singles game she'd played against the Swiss champion.
Bud Schultz had seen enough. For the first time all season, he pulled the plug on
Vandeweghe's singles efforts and sent Raquel Kops-Jones in as a substitute. Coco spent
the rest of the set (and most of the evening, as a matter of fact) looking absolutely
miserable, with her arms folded and her head down. It probably came as little consolation
that Kops-Jones would prove as hopeless against Hingis as Vandeweghe had been.
Hingis served it out at 15, clinching the set when a Kops-Jones lob hit the scoreboard
above the court. Vandeweghe lifted her head to examine said scoreboard, which
now -- after just 12 minutes of play -- read 5-0 for the home team. The petite 29-year-old
had once again shown no mercy against the towering teen. "Both times I've played, I've
beat her 5-0. She must not like me anymore," Hingis surmised after the match. "At one
point, it was me who was 18!"
OVERALL SCORE: BUZZ 5, LOBSTERS 0
Second set: mixed doubles -- Hingis/Jenkins vs. Kops-Jones/Butorac
Mixed doubles has been a real sticking point for the Buzz this year. Martina Hingis isn't
serving well enough, Scoville Jenkins has an unfortunate tendency to go for too much on big
points, and communication between the two has been fairly limited. Boston doubles
specialists Raquel Kops-Jones and Eric Butorac, on the other hand, looked like a well-oiled
machine as they broke Jenkins for a quick 2-0 lead.
It got worse from there for Scoville, who was actually aced by little Raquel midway
through Game 3. The Buzz fought back in that game, forcing it to a winner-takes-all
deciding point, but Butorac skillfully put away an overhead for 3-0. After a sloppy
service game from Hingis ended with a double fault, the Lobsters were up 4-zip. The big
lead Hingis had given the Buzz with her singles shutout had all but evaporated.
Game 5 saw the Buzz fight off a set point in dramatic fashion. Butorac called Kops-Jones
off an overhead and hit it himself, right at Hingis. Martina reflexed the ball back and
it hit the tape, dribbled over, and came to a near complete stop right in front of Butorac,
who couldn't do anything to dig it out. That bit of luck brought up another deciding point
(the third of the set) -- a real chance for the Buzz to break back and make the set
competitive. It didn't work out that way. A rally ended with Jenkins drilling a forehand
into the net. Another 5-0 whitewash was complete, this one in favor of the visiting team.
OVERALL SCORE: BUZZ 5, LOBSTERS 5
Third set: men's doubles -- Domijan/Jenkins vs. Butorac/Gambill
By a wide margin, the New York Buzz have the worst men's doubles record in the WTT league
this year, winning less than 30% of their games. Alex Domijan and Scoville Jenkins are
both serving well, but generally lack the touch, creativity, and sharp returning that mark
the best doubles players. It was more of the same in the early stages of this set.
Domijan and Jenkins each held at love, but didn't make much of an impression on the
Eric Butorac and Jan-Michael Gambill serves. Nary a break point had passed as the teams
switched sides at 2-all.
Gambill placed a return right at the feet of Scoville Jenkins to earn one of those pesky
deciding points in Game 5. In WTT's no-ad format, this is a "receiver's choice" situation --
the returning team chooses which player will take the next return. The Lobsters gave the
assignment to Gambill (once ranked # 23 in the world in doubles) and it was deja vu all over
again. Jan-Michael sent another picture perfect return to the feet of Jenkins, who couldn't
make the shoestring volley. It was the first break of the set and the only one Butorac
and Gambill would need. Losing just one point in their last two service games, they
rolled to a very solid 5-3 win.
OVERALL SCORE: LOBSTERS 10, BUZZ 8
Fourth set: men's singles -- Alex Domijan vs. Jan-Michael Gambill
Named by People Magazine as one of the "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" a decade
ago, Jan-Michael Gambill is now 33 years old and almost certainly nearing the end of his
injury-plagued career. Age has not mellowed the onetime matinee idol, however. Gambill
was practically seething with his trademark intensity in this set: arguing line calls,
muttering to himself, shouting "come on!" at full volume, and generally stalking the
court like one of the tigers he's known to be fond of.
Alex Domijan was holding his own early on, but it all went pear shaped for him in Game 4.
A double fault made it 30-30. An unforced forehand error meant 30-40. And on break
point, a second serve seemed to clank off the frame of Domijan's racquet before
fluttering meekly into the net. Gambill had a break in hand now and he quickly solidified
it, blasting a two-handed forehand winner to close out a love hold for 4-1.
During Game 6, I spotted Scoville Jenkins bouncing in place on the basketball court
behind the Buzz bench. Since he wouldn't be eligible for the fifth set (women's doubles),
this could only mean one thing: Jenkins was getting loose to come in as a substitute
for Domijan. Indeed, after holding for 2-4, Alex handed the baton to Scoville. Jenkins
did get two points off Gambill (one on a double fault; the other on a nifty down-the-line
backhand pass), but Jan-Michael gritted his teeth and finished the job. A thunderous
ace down the T put this set in the books: 5-2 Lobsters.
OVERALL SCORE: LOBSTERS 15, BUZZ 10
Fifth set: women's doubles -- Borwell/Hingis vs. Kops-Jones/Vandeweghe
After sullenly stewing in her juices on the Lobsters bench for a good hour or so, Coco
Vandeweghe had her shot at revenge against Martina Hingis. She absolutely crushed a
backhand return for a clean winner in the opening game, but Hingis battled back to hold
serve. Vandeweghe answered with a convincing service game of her own, nudging the
Lobsters lead in the overall tally back to five games. If the Buzz were going to come
all the way back, it was going to take some awfully special tennis from Hingis and Sarah
Just as the sense of urgency was kicking Hingis and Borwell up a notch, Vandeweghe and
Raquel Kops-Jones saw their games careen off in the opposite direction. After an easy
Borwell hold made it 2-1, the Lobster girls each committed shockingly awful errors in
Game 4. Vandeweghe smacked her racquet in disgust after butchering a volley for 0-40 and
Kops-Jones immediately followed with a break-surrendering double fault. The Buzz had a
3-1 lead and a glimmer of hope.
Hingis picked up a sick half-volley winner from no man's land in Game 5, helping herself
hold at love to make it 4-1. The spectators who hadn't opted to beat the traffic were in
a real tizzy now, bolstering Hingis and Borwell with full-throated cries of support.
To her credit, Vandeweghe did her best to silence them, stopping the bleeding with a love
hold for 2-4. She and Kops-Jones also came up with inspired play to make Game 7 close,
but the Lady Buzz weren't to be denied. Borwell unleashed a service winner on set point,
giving the home team a 5-2 win of the set and narrowing the overall margin to just two
OVERALL SCORE: LOBSTERS 17, BUZZ 15
When the trailing team wins the final set in Team Tennis, overtime commences. If the
Buzz could win the next two games, they'd force a super-tiebreak. That scenario certainly
looked possible when a couple Kops-Jones errors gave the Buzz a 0-30 opportunity in the
first game of overtime. Eric Butorac jumped off the Lobsters bench and huddled with his
female teammates, hoping to guide them out of trouble. It was to no avail: up 15-40, Hingis
snapped off a winning volley to break Kops-Jones. The drama mounted as the Buzz had closed to
within a single game at 17-16.
Hingis and Borwell were bouncing around like jumping beans now, riding a wave of pure
momentum and crowd support. Butorac, meanwhile, was right back out on the court, offering
nuggets of his doubles expertise to Kops-Jones and Vandeweghe. With the pressure on, all
four players delivered some sterling stuff. A scrambling all-court rally at 30-15 ended
with Vandeweghe dispensing a clutch overhead winner. An equally clutch volley by
Borwell made it 40-30 Buzz. Another bang-bang rally ended with Kops-Jones punching a
forehand volley winner.
All the marbles were on the line now. Deuce. Deciding point. For the Lobsters, their
first match point. For the Buzz, a point to tie up the overall score. Martina Hingis
stepped to the line and put in a good first serve, setting up a routine volley for Sarah
Borwell, who deftly knifed it away.
OVERALL SCORE: BUZZ 17, LOBSTERS 17
Bad news for the fans who'd left early. Even worse news for the Boston Lobsters. After
choking away a 5 game lead, Raquel Kops-Jones and Coco Vandeweghe would have to navigate
their way through a nerve-jangling super-tiebreak. The first team to seven points would
prevail. The tension was so thick, even mild mannered Lobsters coach Bud Schultz managed
a fist pump when his team won the coin toss and elected to serve first.
CV serving: An airborne Kops-Jones sends a high forehand volley long -- 1-0 BUZZ
CV: Hingis's attempt to return a Vandeweghe smash falls short, landing in the net -- 1-1
MH: Opportunistic poaching by Kops-Jones, who strikes a winning volley -- 2-1 LOBSTERS
MH: Sizzling backhand pass from Kops-Jones forces a Borwell volley error -- 3-1 LOBSTERS
RKJ: Kops-Jones continues to shine, handcuffing Hingis with a forehand pass -- 4-1 LOBSTERS
RKJ: Vandeweghe pummels an overhead smash and bellows "come on!" -- 5-1 LOBSTERS
SB: Vandeweghe's forehand return finds the net -- 5-2 LOBSTERS
SB: Good rally ends with Borwell angling off a pretty backhand volley -- 5-3 LOBSTERS
CV: An easy put-away at the net for Vandeweghe brings up match point -- 6-3 LOBSTERS
CV: Kops-Jones slightly mis-hits a backhand volley, but it falls in for a winner -- 7-3 LOBSTERS
FINAL SCORE: LOBSTERS 18, BUZZ 17
A deflating conclusion for the Buzz faithful, who'd witnessed a stirring comeback fall
just short. "Great effort by the girls to come back and win that last event and give us
hope," Buzz coach Jay Udwadia said after the match, finding the silver lining. "That was a
positive sign. We're fighting hard as a team, it's just capitalizing on those doubles
events." Mixed doubles in particular had been a killer: a 5-0 loss that could have been
much closer. I asked Udwadia if the trio of deciding points ("3-all points" in
WTT vernacular) lost in the mixed could have made all the difference and he agreed.
"WorldTeam Tennis, 3-all points, those are the ones that make or break you. Those are the
ones we've gotta have a little more confidence stepping up to line and taking care of our
destiny. Not waiting for something to happen; take it to 'em. We'll work on that. We'll
work on some doubles as well."
Alone on the Buzz bench, packing up her bag after a post-match confab with teammates and a
spirited chat with old friend Jan-Michael Gambill, Martina Hingis was not exactly thrilled
to again be spokesperson for the Buzz players. "No one else is left, huh?" she quipped to
the assembled media patiently lingering nearby. After her clean sweep in singles and the
come-from-behind heroics in women's doubles, New York's seventh loss was an especially
bitter pill for Hingis to swallow. "It's quite disappointing to lose it at the end," she
said. "We were already so down. We tried to give our best, come out there and keep a
fighting spirit. It almost was enough. We got to the point where we kinda equalized and
played very well, then just ran out of gas. (Kops-Jones and Vandeweghe) stepped it up.
They had nothing to lose anymore."
Hingis was at a loss to explain the team's poor showing in the middle three sets. "I don't
know what happened. It just didn't click like last night. I started off really well. At
this point, I don't know what more I could have done -- maybe let Sarah play in the mixed!
They would have won a couple games, which would have helped us." Yes, the Hingis/Jenkins
mixed doubles combination has gone nowhere fast and Martina knows there's plenty of blame
to go around. "In the mixed, the girl has to serve well and return well. I'm getting the
returning part quite OK. With the boys, it's difficult. They're having a hard time in
doubles. They're both kind of singles players. Maybe if we had one who could help us in
the doubles, who knows?"
If nothing else, the evening did allow Hingis a chance to reconnect with an erstwhile mixed
doubles partner with whom she did click: Jan-Michael Gambill. At the 2000 U.S. Open, Hingis
and Gambill dominated a pair of mixed doubles matches, but withdrew before the quarterfinals,
dropping out so Hingis could focus on her singles. It was a short-lived partnership, but
one Martina recalled fondly when I brought it up. "He was one of my best partners. We
didn't finish, but he was a great partner to have. I won (a mixed doubles title) only
once, with Mahesh Bhupathi in Australia on my comeback. That was amazing. He played
awesome, but Jan-Michael comes close. If we had continued that year, I think we could have
done some damage."