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!"


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.


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.


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.


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 Borwell.

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 games.


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.


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


    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."