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By Jean Kirshenbaum

© Fred Levine/FAL

(July 23, 2010) Philadelphia is often viewed as a step sister to New York, but its Philadelphia Freedoms had no trouble prevailing over the Buzz 24-17 in their recent World TeamTennis encounter at suburban Villanova University. 

Martina Hingis was the Marquee player, and while her game may have had some bubbles on Monday against the New York Sportimes, by Wednesday this champagne champ came out somewhat flat and looked more like vin ordinaire. 

The player with the fizz was the 19 year old Thai player Noppawan "Nok" Lertcheewakarn, who defeated Hingis 5-3. Hingis did win her mixed doubles match with Scoville Jenkins 5-4, against  the Freedoms' Courtney Nagle and Prakash Amritraj. But in women’s doubles, she and partner Sarah Borwell lost, 5-2, to Nok and Nagle. But Hingis is Hingis, so even in losing to a woman ranked No. 294, there is no need to Thai won on!

The crowd, which filled about half the indoor stadium, the Pavilion, was there to see Hingis, (always this writer’s favorite player ) who is still great, but didn’t look the Hingis of old. Not on this particular night. Her game clearly had some rough edges and still lacks a sparkling  serve, which averaged about 80 mph, but was bookended by two serves of 103 and 101 mph.

None of this should be surprising since she is not on the tour playing top players, and because she turns 30 next month — one of the reasons she cited on Wednesday for not returning to the WTA Tour. On the other hand, she said "It was great to be back at Wimbledon," where she played an invitational doubles match with Anna Kournikova. She acknowledged that continued  doubles at the tour-level is not out of the question, "But I still have to get a partner."  She does have some exhibitions ahead of her. The unanswered question is whether she would want to play during the indoor season.  Even so, she is glad to catch the tennis Buzz.

Here’s her most interesting comment:

"In the past few months I’ve played as much tennis as in the last three years."

In reference to the current state of women’s tennis, dominated by big strong women, she responded this way to the question of whether she has to develop new strategies since she is a smaller player:

"There are still some smaller players — Schiavone is small and Stosur is not tall. Who would have thought 10 years ago that Schiavone would win the French Open? On the slower playing surfaces the smaller players still have a chance. And on the faster surfaces, the smaller players can still do it."

Now let’s talk more about short.  At just 5’ 6” and 132 pounds, (Hingis is taller by an inch),  Noppawan, who plays two handed on both sides,  is a rock-solid fireplug whose game as is as solid as her muscular compact build. And it was a lot of fun to watch her hurl so much energy and precision at her opponents.

Hingis sometimes had a tough time returning many of her shots, not because they were hit that hard, but because they came back fast and well placed. The slow pace of the Hingis serves was also an advantage for Lertcheewakarn, who with Nagle defeated Hingis and Borwell in women’s doubles.

Doubtless, however, people  have to struggle to pronounce her name, so, thankfully she has the nickname Nok. But with her good game and strong confidence, Lertcheewakarn, currently ranked 294, could be a player to watch and a name we may get to know better. And if someday she starts "Nok"ing  ‘em dead, her complicated name will be a lot less troublesome.

She  has an impressive record as a junior, and her junior highlights include one Grand Slam singles title (2009 Wimbledon) and three Grand Slam doubles titles, as well as the  No. 1 ITF juniors ranking in 2008..She clearly is beginning to show some promise. When asked whether she is playing on the main tour, she is sure to let you know that as a wild card in the 2010 Malaysian Open, she achieved a first-round, straight sets victory over Ksenia Pervak— her first-ever WTA main draw win. She is happy with the way her career is going, "but I need to improve a lot," said this charming young player from Chiang Mai, Thailand.


But Back to Hingis: When asked her pick for the U.S. Open, she was coy, "I have no idea!" she exclaimed diplomatically and with a smile.

The new venue is something unusual for the Freedoms this year. They have a roof over head, since they are now playing at an indoor facility that has air conditioning. It was a good time of the year to make the switch since area temperatures have climbed into the 90s for 27 days this summer. For the past two seasons, Freedoms matches were played in a parking lot at the King of Prussia Mall, a highly congested and inhospitable location. Before that, the team’s home was at Cabrini College, an upscale Main Line location in Radnor, Pa. The Freedoms apparently grew out of Cabrini, which could no longer accommodate a growing fan base, went shopping and ended up at the mall.

As for the Villanova location, some were skeptical about whether indoor tennis during the outdoor season would draw attendance and it has been uneven. Not unexpectedly, the July 15th match with Andy Roddick was sold out, but the July 9th event with Ashley Harkleroad was sparsely attended. This is in stark contrast to matches in New York, which seem to field more marquee players. A case in point was the July 19th Sportimes-Buzz match, which included John McEnroe, Kim Clijsters, and Hingis.

However, given the comfort and size of the Pavilion (which hosts some exhibition matches during the winter) it appears that the switch was a very smart decision, at least for this year. How many people would have come out in 90 degree heat?  Billie Jean King, who owns the Freedoms,  has said that WTT intends to stick with the Pavilion, which should be heartening to all those who attend WTT matches there. That crowd needs to grow. And from the players’ standpoint fans need to be less subdued, which, in contrast to New York, is the nature of a Philadelphia crowd.

The low-key atmosphere prompted the relatively reserved  Prakash Amritraj to address the Freedoms fans on his side of the court: "Let’s get a little noise in here!" The most  noise he got was the noise of victory when he defeated the towering 6’7” Alex Domijan 5-3,  in singles, and with his partner Ramon Delgado, in his 5-4  win over the Buzz duo of  Domijan and Jenkins.

Villanova is just a few miles from the City of Brotherly love, but the Buzz, which are in last place and one behind the Freedoms in the WTT standings, got no love from their stepsister city.  The results:

Philadelphia Freedoms defeated New York Buzz 24-17
•    Men’s Singles – Prakash Amritraj (Freedoms) def. Alex Domijan (Buzz) 5-3
•    Women’s Singles – Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (Freedoms) def. Martina Hingis (Buzz) 5-3
•    Mixed Doubles – Martina Hingis\Scoville Jenkins (Buzz) def. Courtney Nagle\Prakash Amritraj (Freedoms) 5-4
•    Women’s Doubles – Noppawan Lertcheewakarn\Courtney Nagle (Freedoms) def. Sarah Borwell\Martina Hingis (Buzz) 5-2
•    Men’s Doubles – Prakash Amritraj\Ramon Delgado (Freedoms) def. Alex Domijan\Scoville Jenkins (Buzz) 5-4

Jean Kirshenbaum is a Tennis Now contributing writer and avid tennis player based in Pennsylvania. Her previous columns include All Dressed In WhiteAd In, Ad Out: Best and Worst TV AdsDressed To Kill: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and Tennis Nearly Killed Me...And Then It Saved My Life.


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