Buzz Face Stiff Challenge From Resilient Freedoms
by Christopher Gerby

There was good news and bad news for the New York Buzz as they returned to their home court for a meeting with the Philadelphia Freedoms. The bad news: they'd be facing a winner of multiple Grand Slam doubles titles, rocket serving Daniel Nestor. The good news: they weren't facing TWO winners of multiple Grand Slam doubles titles. Committed to play Fed Cup this week, Lisa Raymond was unavailable for the Freedoms. In her place stepped Jamea Jackson, still finding her form after hip surgery wiped out the first half of her 2007 season. Jackson has been (and perhaps still is) regarded as one of the better hopes for the future of American tennis, but she didn't get much dap from the PA announcer. Upon hearing Jackson introduced as simply "a late arrival to the Freedoms," Philly coach Craig Kardon chuckled and remarked, "That's all you get."

First set: mixed doubles -- De Voest/Arn vs. Nestor/Savchuk

After Rik de Voest, Daniel Nestor, and Greta Arn opened the evening's action with service holds, the onus fell upon 19-year-old WTT rookie Olga Savchuk. Starting inauspiciously, she teed up a tasty little second serve for Greta Arn, who crushed a winning return for 0-15. Three points later, it was 15-40 and the Buzz DJ appropriately dropped in a snippet of the Queen/David Bowie classic "Under Pressure." Once again, Arn abused Savchuk's serve, launching a forehand return down the line for a clean winner and a 3-1 lead in the set.

Soon enough, it was 4-2 Buzz and Arn had set point on her racquet at 40-30. However, the German double faulted, taking the game to a winner-take-all deciding point. It ended weirdly, as De Voest got handcuffed on a volley and conceded the point by making an awkward double hit. Just like that, the Freedoms had new life, back on serve at 3-4.

Serving to extend the set, Savchuk got some crafty help from Nestor, who began crouching down in the I-formation (but only on first serves returned by Arn). It worked well enough, as the Ukrainian teen held at 30 to necessitate a tiebreak...

  • RdV serving: Arn powers home an overhead smash -- 1-0 BUZZ
  • RdV: Savchuk dumps a backhand volley in the net -- 2-0 BUZZ
  • DN: De Voest raises his hand in apology after getting a forehand winner to skim off the tape -- 3-0 BUZZ
  • DN: Savchuk directs a volley at Arn, who can only block the ball back into the net -- 3-1 BUZZ
  • GA: A crisp winning forehand volley from Arn -- 4-1 BUZZ
  • GA: Arn wins the set by swinging a big ace out wide -- 5-1 BUZZ


    Second set: women's singles -- Greta Arn vs. Jamea Jackson

    A serious hip injury is no small concern for a tennis player. An unsuccessful hip surgery essentially ended Magnus Norman's career and similar woes have left Gustavo Kuerten in limbo for years. With that in mind, it's been no surprise to see Jamea Jackson get off to a slow start in her recovery. The talented youngster from Atlanta has played three WTA Tour matches since coming back: a 6-1, 6-2 loss at the French Open; a 6-3, 6-1 exit from Birmingham; and a 6-1, 6-3 trashing at the hands of Amelie Mauresmo in the first round of Wimbledon. Fortunately for Jackson, her temporary World Team Tennis stint gives her a chance to at least get some match action under her belt without fretting about ranking points and the like.

    Jackson looked outrageously rusty in the first couple games, spraying loose forehands that carried far past the baseline. She managed to break Greta Arn to get on the board at 1-2, but a double fault on break point made the deficit 1-3. Arn had command of the set, yet still wasn't really dictating play -- it was Jackson recording an error or winner on virtually every point. That remained the case in the next two games, as Jackson found the range. Punishing Arn with deep groundstrokes, Jackson battled her way to 3 games all.

    Arn opened Game 7 with an ace and went on to hold for a 4-3 advantage. Jackson hung tough, ripping back-to-back forehand winners to stake a 40-30 claim in Game 8. Arn got the American on the run in the following rally, however, forcing an error and taking the game to deuce. In the no-ad format of World Team Tennis, this was simultaneously a game point for Jackson and a set point for Arn. The heat was on...and Jackson blinked, squealing in dismay after coughing up a double fault. Jackson tried to laugh off that rather fitting end to a topsy-turvy set of hit-or-miss tennis, but after getting some pats on the back from teammates, she slammed her towel down in frustration.


    Third set: men's doubles -- De Voest/Fisher vs. Nestor/Niemeyer

    Freedoms teammates Daniel Nestor and Frederic Niemeyer are like mirror images: one left-handed, the other a righty, both hail from Canada and make their living with wicked serves. Rik de Voest and Ashley Fisher had to go in knowing points would be hard to come by in their return games. The Freedoms got in such a groove on serve, in fact, that a fan in serach of a silver lining exclaimed, "We'll take it!" when Nestor made an uncharacteristic double fault late in Game 5. The Buzz never did get within sniffing distance of a break in this set, but by scraping through their own service games they were able to force a tiebreak...

  • RdV serving: Fisher makes a winning forehand volley -- 1-0 BUZZ
  • RdV: Niemeyer slips as a Fisher smash eludes him -- 2-0 BUZZ
  • DN: De Voest's return (a desperate defensive lob) falls long -- 2-1 BUZZ
  • DN: Fisher takes a big swing on his return, ripping a forehand into the net -- 2-2
  • AF: A nice Niemeyer lob sets up an easy overhead for Nestor -- 3-2 FREEDOMS
  • AF: Nestor nets a lunging backhand volley -- 3-3
  • FN: After a great four-player volley exchange, an awkward Niemeyer smash lands wide -- 4-3 BUZZ
  • FN: Niemeyer badly shanks a second serve wide, ending the set on a double fault -- 5-3 BUZZ

    After winning only 4 of their first 22 points returning serve, New York's "Bad Boys" somehow managed to escape the set victorious. Later on, I asked De Voest how he and Fisher approached the tall task presented by Philadelphia's big serving tandem. "We just try to concentrate on our games, hold our serves, and go for it on the returns," replied De Voest. "If they play well, then give them credit, you know? We gotta keep putting on the pressure and sooner or later we'll hopefully get a break. You win a lot of matches 5-4."


    Fourth set: women's doubles -- Arn/G Navratilova vs. Jackson/Savchuk

    If the men's doubles was a showcase of service game efficiency, this fourth set was...well, something else altogether. While the evenly matched women produced some fun rallies, they also combined for six double faults and a veritable rash of abysmal net play. Consecutive breaks of Jamea Jackson, Gabriela Navratilova, and Olga Savchuk left the score at 3-2 in favor of the Buzz. The lead was extended to 4-2 when Navratilova ended Game 6 with a beautifully sharp angled drop volley winner. It was the best shot of the set and Greta Arn celebrated it by giving Navratilova a few "I'm not worthy" bows.

    With Jackson still playing very erratic tennis and Savchuk having struggles of her own, the Freedoms trailed 15-40 in Game 7. Set point was on Arn's racquet not once, not twice, but three times...and she responded with a wild forehand error, a bricked forehand volley, and an errant forehand return. Let off the hook, Jackson held for 3-4.

    Navratilova still had a chance to serve out the set, but she goofed up Game 8 as badly as Arn had thrown away Game 7. A double fault, a deplorable forehand error, and two missed volleys were the Czech's undoing as she dropped serve at love. After being on the verge of a well deserved 5-2 loss, the Freedoms improbably found themselves back in business, playing a tiebreak...

  • OS serving: Arn sends a forehand near the corner and shouts "yes!"...but it's called out -- 1-0 FREEDOMS
  • OS: Navratilova's attempt at a down-the-line backhand pass is wide of the mark -- 2-0 FREEDOMS
  • GA: Savchuk's defensive lob floats wide -- 2-1 FREEDOMS
  • GA: An untimely double fault (long) by Arn -- 3-1 FREEDOMS
  • JJ: Arn takes a hearty rip at a forehand, but finds the top of the net -- 4-1 FREEDOMS
  • JJ: Navratilova stays alive by spanking a forehand volley -- 4-2 FREEDOMS
  • GN: Set point #2 sees Savchuk mis-hit an ugly forehand long -- 4-3 FREEDOMS
  • GN: Navratilova unleashes a screaming fist pump after Jackson's backhand return goes wide -- 4-4
  • GN: Mutual set point ends with Navratilova netting a forehand and dropping her racquet in disgust -- 5-4 FREEDOMS


    Fifth set: men's singles -- Rik de Voest vs. Frederic Niemeyer

    The home team's overall lead had shrunk to a mere 3 games, but there was reason to believe it would hold up. Rik de Voest and Frederic Niemeyer had a history: a history of very close matches won by De Voest. Three years ago at a challenger in Joplin, Missouri, De Voest edged Niemeyer 7-6, 3-6, 7-6. Last year in Tennis Channel Open qualifying, De Voest was a 6-4, 7-6 victor. A week ago in the WTT season opener, De Voest won yet another tiebreak to best Niemeyer in Philadelphia. Niemeyer would have to fend off a couple break points early in this set, but otherwise it was smooth sailing on serve as the pair surged inexorably to a tiebreak...

  • RdV serving: Niemeyer laces a forehand wide -- 1-0 BUZZ
  • RdV: After some good defensive work by Niemeyer, De Voest nets a forehand -- 1-1
  • FN: De Voest badly misses with a forehand -- 2-1 FREEDOMS
  • FN: A clutch, winning forehand pass by De Voest -- 2-2
  • RdV: Niemeyer pushes a forehand volley long and mutters to himself -- 3-2 BUZZ
  • RdV: Mini-break for Niemeyer after De Voest nets a backhand approach -- 3-3
  • FN: Unreturnable forehand volley takes Niemeyer to set point -- 4-3 FREEDOMS
  • FN: Niemeyer spanks an ace out wide and shouts "come on!" -- 5-3 FREEDOMS


    After a shaky finish in men's doubles, Frederic Niemeyer had demonstrated steely resolve in winning the singles tiebreak and forcing overtime. Having fought from behind to make the first set close, the second set respectable, and the fourth set an unlikely win, the Freedoms now needed their man Niemeyer to win two consecutive games against De Voest. Ultimately, that was too much to ask of the spiky-haired 31-year-old. Niemeyer opened overtime with a double fault, fell to 0-30 by failing to dig out a low forehand, and followed with a forehand error for 0-40. Facing a handful of match points, Niemeyer made it official, sending a backhand into the net to drop serve at love.


    The New York Buzz regained sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference by improving their record to 4-2, but it sure took them long enough. A match that could very conceivably have been won by a dozen games remained interesting right up to the very end, through a mixture of sloppy play by the Buzz and a never-say-die effort by the visiting Philadelphia Freedoms. Palpable relief danced across Rik de Voest's face as he reflected back on the match. "That's the beauty of the format -- it's never over. Guys can come back and come back and come back. You've gotta put them away. Give them credit; they made it difficult." Of course, the absence of Lisa Raymond (much like Liezel Huber's unavailability for the Delaware Smash in the Buzz's home opener) was a stroke of good fortune. De Voest admits as much, but makes no apologies. "We've had our fair share of lucky breaks and you've gotta use them. If you don't use them, then it doesn't count. So we took advantage of it and came away with a win."