The Orange County Breakers arrived in Charleston first, loaded with confidence going into tonight’s all-California Western Conference title match against the Sacramento Capitals in the World Team Tennis Finals Weekend.
And why not? “They (Breakers) beat us three out of four times in the regular season,” pointed out 11th-year Sacramento standout Mark Knowles. Orange County also finished the regular season in first place in the Western Conference.
Then, there’s the other statistic. The Capitals have won more WTT titles than any other team — six.
But whoever wins tonight’s opener on the multi-colored WTT surface in Family Circle Stadium will be the underdog in Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. WTT title match against the winner of Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. Eastern Conference showdown between the defending champion Washington Kastles and the New York Sportimes.
Not only did the Kastles win last year’s WTT title on Daniel Island, the Venus Williams/Leander Paes-led Kastles have won 30 straight matches.
At 41, Knowles is nearing the end of his WTT playing days. His first-round doubles loss in this U.S. Open marked the end to his ATP Tour career.
“It’s been a great career. Fortunately, I’ve been fairly healthy . . . and I’ve also enjoyed the tennis,” Knowles said Thursday after the Capitals’ opening practice at the Family Circle complex.
How did he end up playing World Team Tennis? “Sacramento’s owner, Ramey Osborne, tried to get me many times to play for the Capitals. I agreed to play one year with Sacramento, and I enjoyed it so much I decided to come back.”
The native of Nassau, Bahamas, has had an outstanding pro career, including reaching the No. 1 world ranking in doubles in 2002 and 2004. He’s a three-time WTT MVP and has played on two WTT championship teams.
He was a doubles finalist in the 2009 U.S. Open and Australian Open. He also teamed with Anna-Lena Groenefeld to win Wimbledon’s mixed doubles crown in 2009.
Ironically, Knowles and Coco Vandeweghe will be paired against the Breakers’ mixed doubles pair of Groenefeld and either Travis Parrott or John-Patrick Smith tonight. Smith was the 2012 WTT rookie of the year, while Parrott won an NCAA doubles title in 2001 while at the University of Georgia.
Groenefeld, a 5-11 German, played for her country in the London Olympics. She’s been a doubles quarterfinalist at all four Grand Slams and reached the semifinals with Martina Navratilova in 2005 at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
She wrapped up her singles career last year. “I got injured and it wasn’t as much fun to play singles then,” said Groenefeld, a singles semifinalist at the Family Circle Cup in 2006 as well as a quarterfinalist that year at the French Open.
Team matches consist of five sets (the first team to reach five games ahead by two wins a set — a nine-point tiebreaker is played at 4-4). A match consists of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles. The home team (Orange County tonight as the No. 1 Western seed) will select the order of play one hour before match time.