By Dan Harrison
---- — There’s a lot to absorb in any given tennis match. Sometimes, even the most experienced fans are left just following the ball back and forth.
In Mylan World TeamTennis, the format is different and even more up-tempo than the average match. There’s no-ad scoring, five shortened sets and a running, final score that includes every game won throughout each set.
The Boston Lobsters, who begin play this Sunday against the New York Sportimes (6:30 p.m.) have a new home (the Manchester Athletic Club), some new faces and a hunger to move up the standings and get back into the playoffs this season.
Here’s a look at who’ll be taking the court for the Lobsters this summer:
Marquee player Mark Philippoussis has a booming serve and a great first return. His size (6-foot-5, 230 lbs.) and length allow him to get great extension. Watch for how relaxed he is during his serve and how he accelerates the racquet. If all these things are lining up for Philippoussis, the former No. 8 player in the world, expect him to have a big serving night.
Doubles specialist Eric Butorac’s strength is getting really tight on the net, cutting balls off and putting them away. Pay attention to when his partner hits a good first serve or solid return of serve; when either happens, the left-handed Butorac will look to be aggressive and move forward.
Singles player Jill Craybas is an extremely effective defender. Watch not only how hard her opponent has to work to win points, but also how much her opponent gets frustrated when she can’t do it. Craybas can get to a lot of balls most players wouldn’t, and her ability to put those balls into play can create a mental edge over her opponent as the match goes on.
The newest addition to the Lobsters, 34-year-old Romanian born Katalin Marosi, will replace the recently injured Paola Suarez. Marosi, a Hungarian resident, is a strong doubles player who’s currently ranked 38th in doubles and has been as high as No. 33 in her career. She’s won a total of 46 ITF titles (31 doubles, 15 singles) and was a member of the Hungarian Olympic team in 2000. She’s known to have a strong two-handed backhand and made it to the third round in mixed doubles at Wimbledon this year.
Singles player Amir Weintraub thrives on a fantastic, one-handed backhand and his ability to hit winners. Focus on how he sets up his opponent to play to his backhand and how well he finishes when they do.
If you’re planning on heading out to the MAC this summer to watch the Lobsters play but aren’t familiar with the structure, veteran head coach Bud Schultz offers some tips on what you can look for to try to predict what’s going to happen during a match — and what particularly to pay attention to with each member of the team.
When the players are warming up, take note of their respective styles and try to identify strengths and weaknesses. If a player is spending a lot of time practicing close to the net, it’s likely he or she will be looking to come in on big points. Since games and sets are shorter, and most players already know each other, there isn’t a lot of probing for weaknesses. They’ll just try to establish their strengths early on and try to exploit what isn’t working for their opponents, especially on crucial points.
Watch which team puts in more first serves. It’s a great predictor of success. A strong start means the player at net can be more active. Since each shot sets up the next one, a quality first serve can force a defensive return, making it more likely that the net person can cut the ball off and take it earlier. Even if that player can’t hit an immediate winner, he or she can maintain pressure on the other team, inducing either an eventual error or easy put away shot.
Focus on the female player. Women generally are the lynch pin to winning an overall Mylan WTT match, and this holds especially true in mixed doubles. If she can handle the opposing male player’s shots and consistently return his serve, her team has a decided advantage.
Games are the first to 4 points. If the score gets to 3-3, the next point wins – no need to win by 2 as with the more traditional format. These sudden death moments are always the most exciting moments of the match, and they’re also when a player’s strengths and weaknesses become a factor. If you’ve noticed that a player has a shaky backhand, anticipate that the opponent will target that side with a serve on the deciding point.
Joan Norton Tennis Center
At first glance, the Boston Lobsters’ new home court — the Joan Norton Tennis Center at the Manchester Athletic Club — looks similar to the venue that the team had for the last five years at the Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton.
However, there are a few subtle differences that aim to benefit both the players on the court and the fans in the stands.
Like at the Ferncroft, this year’s stadium will have seating along both sidelines and one of the baselines, and have a large LED screen in back of the other baseline. But the court has now been expanded from 120-feet-by-60-feet to the 130-feet-by-70-feet dimensions of championship surfaces, like at Wimbledon and the French Open. The players are more accustomed to the extra area and this added room will influence play and potentially increase the excitement.
“When there’s a bigger court, the players naturally see more angles because there’s more space to the sides,” says Lobsters head coach Bud Schultz. “When the court is smaller, the players tend to visually play straight through, but as players run down bigger angles they’ll do something the average fan can’t even think of, never mind attempt doing.”
While the court itself is larger, the configuration of the stadium has sideline sections that are longer but not as deep as before. The number of seats has dropped from 1,760 to 1,600. The result is a more intimate environment, one that will allow spectators to see the entire playing surface and not miss any action.
“You’re going to feel right on top of the court and the players to the point where you can reach out and touch them,” Schultz said.
In addition, the stadium itself is closer to the ocean than was in previous years.
“It’s North Shore by the water,” Schultz said. “I’m sure there will be some matches where you can smell the ocean. If you want to see quintessential New England, all you have to do is drive a mile one way or the other.”
Boston Lobster's Manchester Athletic Club Schedule Sunday, July 7 vs. New York Sportimes Wednesday, July 10 vs. New York Sportimes Sunday, July 14 vs. Philadelphia Freedoms Monday, July 15 vs. Washington Kastles Friday, July 19 vs. Sacramento Capitals Sunday, July 21 vs. Washington Kastles Monday, July 22 vs. Springfield Lasers