By Matt Williams
---- — MANCHESTER — As first impressions go, this one was pretty good.
Marquee player Mark Philippoussis made his home debut for the Boston Lobsters last night, contributing seven scintillating aces while helping the hosts beat Philadelphia in men’s singles and men’s doubles.
The points won by their Australian star helped Boston pull out a 22-19 overtime win over the Freedom in World TeamTennis action at Joan Norton Tennis Center and Manchester Athletic Club.
The Freedom (1-4) won the evening’s final match, mixed doubles, to make it 21-19. Mylan World Team Tennis rules allowed mixed doubles to continue; had Philadelphia won two games they would’ve forced a super tiebreaker, but Boston’s Eric Butorac and Katalin Marosi won the first game of OT to seal Boston’s second team victory in three nights.
“It was good,” said Philippoussis. “The crowd was lively and it was a good first experience here. It’s always better when you can pull out the win.”
Boston (3-4) has played the most matches of any team in the league, and their busy slate continues tonight when they host Washington and its marquee player, Martina Hingis (7 p.m.), back at the MAC.
At 6-foot-5, Philippoussis brings a powerful serve and plenty of experience. The 36-year-old was the first player to lose to Roger Federer in a Grand Slam Final (Wimbeldon, 2003). He also played in two Grand Slam Finals and two Olympics.
Last night, he uncorked that serve on Samuel Groth of the Freedom in the opening match, which Philippoussis won 5-2.
“With that huge serve, you know going into men’s singles if he can squeeze out a break, you have a chance to take a lead,” said Lobsters head coach Bud Schultz. “That’s nice to know going into the rest of the match ... and it’s great having Mark on board.”
Philippoussis grabbed a break point in the second game (winning while Groth was serving) and took a 3-0 lead before the resilient Groth rallied. On serve, Philippoussis finished the job with relative ease.
“Whenever you’re going against someone with a big serve, you’re just trying to get anything on it you can, make him do it as many times as possible so he might double fault, which he did,” Philippoussis said. “For me, serving has always been a big part of my game and you’re going to play to your strengths and play your game out there.”
Boston’s Jill Craybas took a 3-1 lead over 17-year-old Victoria Duval in women’s singles, but the youngster rallied to win four straight games (two of them breaks) to take the match, 5-3. Duval got the better of several long volleys on game points, which was a great change of pace for a crowd that was fortunate to witness both powerful serves from the men and incredibly accurate winners from the women.
Philippoussis teamed with Eric Butorac in men’s doubles and the pair won, 5-4, in a tiebreaker. Groth and Jordan Kerr battled for the Freedom, breaking Boston after the Lobsters had taken a 4-1 lead. The Lobsters won the tiebreak, however, to salvage what proved to be a crucial point.
“We lost a little focus there, but we ended up winning,” said Philippoussis.
Boston showed some resiliency of their own in women’s doubles, as Craybas and Katalin Marosi won three straight games to take their match 5-3. That gave Boston a healthy lead heading into mixed doubles, but Groth and Liezel Huber won 5-3 to force overtime.
“I thought we played better than what the score ended up,” said Schultz. “We’ve struggled to this point in the season with the three-all points (i.e., when a game is tied 3-3 and the next point wins). When you have the opportunity to put a game in your pocket, you have to close it out.
“We did enough of that to get over the finish line but we have to do better.”
After last night, the Lobsters had played three nights in a row in three different cities (Friday in Sacramento, Saturday in Texas and last night at home). It’s a taxing schedule that Boston hopes pays off down the road; the Lobsters are now in second place in the Eastern Conference.
“I just keep preaching head and heart, every night. Even if you’re playing poorly, squeeze out a game or two, show up with head and heart and we’ll be fine,” said Schultz.