Buzz Make Home Debut Against Husband and Wife
by Christopher Gerby

The 2005 season was a forgettable one for the Buzz, upstate New York's franchise in World Team Tennis. As if the club's 5-9 record wasn't unfortunate enough, rain and a power outage forced their first two home matches indoors. Those washouts cost the Buzz quite a bit of revenue and left team owner Nitty Singh unable to secure a marquee player for the 2006 season. The best they can boast is rising Ukrainian teen Viktoriya Kutuzova, who very nearly defeated Elena Dementieva in this year's French Open. A fan favorite two years ago for the Buzz, Kutuzova is joined by Scott Lipsky, K.C. Corkery, and Julie Ditty. If nothing else, team unity should be forged as all four players are scheduled to remain in the lineup for the full 14 match campaign.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Buzz won two of the three matches that comprised their season opening road trip. Their downstate rivals, meanwhile, came to town with an 0-2 record. "Monkey off the back," vowed Sportimes doubles specialist David Martin before the match. His team certainly seemed jovial enough under the circumstances. Teammate Alex Bogomolov, Jr. performed Bryan Twins style chest bumps with both Martin and coach Chuck Adams during the pre-match introductions. The female members of the squad -- Ashley Harkleroad (Bogomolov's wife) and Vladka Uhlirova -- then joined the trio for an exuberant team huddle. Arms locked and heads bowed, they chanted, "What time is it? SPORTIMES! Who's gonna win? SPORTIMES!"

First set: men's doubles -- Corkery/Lipsky vs. Bogomolov/Martin

Back in 2003, Scott Lipsky and David Martin reached the NCAA men's doubles semifinals as Stanford teammates. The partnership has continued into their fledgling professional careers, with Lipsky and Martin combining to reach a challenger final in Waikoloa and win a futures title at Wollogong. On this occasion, however, the good friends and frequent partners would be on opposite sides of the net. Frequently playing with both men back (particularly against Martin's tough lefty serve), Lipsky and K.C. Corkery managed to more than hold their own. Largely uncomplicated service holds were exchanged as the pairs battled to 3 games all.

Alex Bogomolov, Jr. came to life in a big way in Game 7, shouting "come on!" after ripping an inside-out forehand winner for a 15-30 edge. Three points later, Corkery donated a double fault to surrender the game and put the Buzz in a 3-4 hole. However, spurred on by a somewhat larger than usual Buzz crowd, the home team fought back. Capitalizing on the first break point against Bogomolov's serve, Lipsky clipped his old Stanford buddy with a smash to tie the set at 4 games all. Under the fast paced scoring rules of World Team Tennis, this meant the set would be decided in a first-to-five-points tiebreak...

  • SL serving: Lipsky opens with an ace -- 1-0 BUZZ
  • SL: Bogomolov dumps a forehand in the net -- 2-0 BUZZ
  • DM: Bogomolov redeems himself, putting away a high forehand volley -- 2-1 BUZZ
  • DM: A winning overhead smash from Bogomolov -- 2-2
  • KC: Bogomolov stumbles making a great get; rally ends on an errant defensive lob by Martin -- 3-2 BUZZ
  • KC: Another Bogomolov forehand finds the net -- 4-2 BUZZ
  • AB: Bogomolov officially dons the goat horns with a set ending double fault -- 5-2 BUZZ

    It was an encouraging start, albeit a slightly bittersweet one for Scott Lipsky. After the match, I asked him if there were any advantages to playing doubles against someone he'd played alongside so many times. "Yeah. I mean, I definitely know a lot about where he's gonna hit and what his tendencies are," Lipsky replied. "It's tough playing against a good friend and stuff, but I kinda know what he's gonna do."


    Second set: women's singles -- Viktoriya Kutuzova vs. Ashley Harkleroad

    Once upon a time, Ashley Harkleroad was considered the brightest hope for the future of American's women's tennis. A successful juniors career was followed by steady progress on the pro tour, as Harkleroad beat the likes of Daniela Hantuchova and Elena Bovina en route to the world's Top 40. The marketability of Harkleroad's sparkling blue eyes and charming Southern accent only served to increase the hype, adding the glare of the spotlight to the pressure of expectations. Ultimately, it was all too much for the youngster to handle. Frustrated by recurring injuries, rocked by her mother's skin cancer diagnosis, and burned out on tennis in general, Harkleroad disappeared into semi-retirement in 2004.

    Spirits buoyed by her mother's return to health and her own marriage to Sportimes teammate Alex Bogomolov, Harkleroad ended her tennis sabbatical in May 2005. Quickly storming through the challenger ranks, the ex-phenom known as "Pebbles" regained her place in the Top 100. Previously known as a grinding counterpuncher, Harkleroad is working to add some more power to her game. That was certainly in evidence on Sunday night, as she punished Viktoriya Kutuzova with deep forehands to break for a 2-0 lead. "Let's go, Ashley! Stay on 'em," her husband shouted from the sidelines. Ashley obliged, battling out of a 15-40 hole to hold for a 3-0 lead. Coming out on the wrong end of the long, tense rallies in that game took the wind out of Kutuzova's sails. She dropped her next service game at love, ending it with a double fault. Harkleroad closed it out from there, pumping her fist after lacing a backhand down the line on set point to clinch a 5-0 sweep.

    You'd think it was sweet revenge for Harkleroad if you knew she'd lost her only previous meeting with Kutuzova, years ago at a juniors tournament in Belgium. Alas, Harkleroad confessed afterwards that she has no recollection of that 2002 match. Kutuzova, meanwhile, has been playing like a junior in her return to the Buzz, losing a whopping 20 of her first 23 games in singles this WTT season. The self-assured enthusiasm that marked her first go-round with the Buzz was nowhere to be found as Viktoriya cited fatigue as the reason for her slump. "I'm just really tired. I played like five tournaments in a row before World TeamTennis," explained Kutuzova. "Just tired. Just tired. I need a rest, but nothing I can do -- I have to play."

    Kutuzova added that she was "a little upset" about defaulting a second round match at Wimbledon. (An allergic reaction to strawberries, misdiagnosed as chicken pox, cost her an opportunity to face Kim Clijsters on Centre Court). Even the adjustment to the wacky multi-color courts used in World TeamTennis this summer is vexing Kutuzova, who cops to feeling "a little frustrated." Nevertheless, she's determined to reverse the losing trend. "I'm working two hours a day, trying to find my game again and come back."


    Third set: men's singles -- Scott Lipsky vs. Alex Bogomolov, Jr.

    Alex Bogomolov, Jr. has seen his ranking dip from the career high of 97 he achieved three years ago, but he hasn't lost his ability to get under an opponent's skin. A wildly contentious bout against Fernando Gonzalez in this year's Australian Open saw him taunt, mock, and nearly come to blows with the ninth seeded Chilean. Bogomolov won the match, but had to fork over $4,500 in resultant fines for "verbal abuse" and "obscene language." There were no such behavioral infractions from the Moscow born American on this evening, but his opponent was plenty rankled nonetheless. Upon having his serve broken in the opening game, Scott Lipsky of the Buzz threw his racquet. Midway through the following game, Lipsky whacked a ball into the stands. Collapsing under a torrent of unforced errors, Lipsky dug himself a 1-4 hole. Bogomolov served it out from there, winning the set 5-1 on a cross-court forehand pass. Playing the far steadier tennis of the two, Alex had handily extended the Sportimes' lead going into halftime.


    Fourth set: women's doubles -- Ditty/Kutuzova vs. Harkleroad/Uhlirova

    Vladka Uhlirova, a personable redhead from the Czech Republic, saw her first action of the night and made a good impression for the Sportimes. Her nifty, angled touch volley winner was the highlight of partner Ashley Harkleroad's set-opening hold. Break points in hand against Buzz lefty Julie Ditty in Game 2, Uhlirova rifled a forehand winner for 2-0. "That's sick!" exclaimed an approving Alex Bogomolov, Jr. An ensuing hold by Uhlirova and break against Kutuzova ran the Sportimes lead to 4-0. They'd won seven games in a row, all but putting the entire match away. However, the Buzz's new PA announcer (a woman with a somewhat monotonously chipper voice) kept the faith, imploring the fans to "cheer for your Lady Buzz!" It worked to some extent, as Ditty and Kutuzova narrowed the gap to 2-4. However, Harkleroad authoritatively put away a volley on set point to wrap up a 5-2 win.


    Fifth set: mixed doubles -- Lipsky/Ditty vs. Martin/Harkleroad

    Whether it's on the professional tour or in a leisurely weekend knock-up, popular wisdom suggests that married couples should not play doubles together. The New York Sportimes have thus far adhered to that axiom, pairing Ashley Harkleroad up with David Martin rather than her hubby, Alex Bogomolov, Jr. When I asked about it later on, however, Harkleroad said her marital status was a non-factor. "It's just that Dave Martin's a really good doubles player. That's pretty much why he's here, to play doubles. Bogie's here to play singles. Now Bogie can play good doubles, but I think it's just best that we go with the more doubles experienced guy."

    Trying desperately to wow the crowd in his Schenectady debut, Scott Lipsky won the final set's opening game by digging out a low volley, then waved his arms around to get the fans involved. The animated 24-year-old lobbed his racquet high into the air after missing a shot in the next game, but the Buzz got the break anyway on a Martin double fault. The next couple games featured the absolute best rallies of the night, with great displays of reflexes and hustle all over the court. It was the Buzz getting the better of the fast-paced action, extending their lead to 4-0.

    Understandably, Harkleroad was less than thrilled. She threw her racquet after losing a bang-bang volley exchange to Lipsky, thumped a ball against the backdrop after one of her double faults drew applause, and went apoplectic over a line call that even some of the Buzz fans acknowledged was rotten. Exclaiming "this far out" (indicating a wide margin with her hands), she pleaded to the umpire, "open your eyes!" Lipsky served out a 5-0 bagel at love, keeping his team mathematically alive under the comeback-friendly scoring format of World Team Tennis.


    When the trailing team wins the final set of a WTT match, the match continues until the leading team wins a game or the overall score becomes tied. Lipsky and Ditty were on quite a roll, but taking six more consecutive games of mixed doubles was a bit much too ask, especially after Harkleroad powered home a smash for 30-0. Two points later, Martin earned his keep with a service winner, taking the game at love and bringing the overtime session to an abrupt, decisive halt.


    After shaking hands with the vanquished Buzz, the members of the New York Sportimes reconvened in front of their bench for a celebratory huddle. For the first time in 2006, they were able to chant in unison, "Who just won? SPORTIMES!" The victory was particularly sweet given the heartbreaking way they'd lost at home to the Sacramento Capitals just 24 hours earlier. Ashley Harkleroad provided an animated account of that defeat when I flagged her down for a one-on-one. "We were so far down last night. When they put (Anna) Kournikova in, it looked like she hadn't played tennis in I don't know when. She was suckin' it up out there! So we started coming back because of that. And then we were all tied up and we had to play, like, a supertiebreak. We got a little unlucky in the tiebreak and that's why they won. It was good to come out here and turn it around."

    Harkleroad's intention to have fun with the second phase of her tennis life would seem perfectly suited to the laid back atmosphere of World Team Tennis, but the Georgia native assured me it's not all as relaxed as one might think. "It can be a little bit nerve-wracking at times, because there's no-ad scoring, you play lets, and it's just a lot different... It can be more relaxed, because it's a team situation, which is kinda nice every now and then. But then again, there's some parts that make it more uptight too." Of course, it's easy to be uptight when you get hooked on a call the way Harkleroad was in mixed doubles. "It was five inches out. Pretty bad."

    Meanwhile, it was an exhausting first week of action for the new look New York Buzz, whose record fell to 2-2. "I didn't play particularly well and I don't know if Viktoriya played particularly well," said Scott Lipsky after the match. "It's hard. This was our fourth match in four nights and it's hard to play every night well. In this kind of format, if you don't play every match well, it goes by so fast." The spirited comeback in mixed doubles was something to hang their hats on, though, and Julie Ditty remained upbeat. "It's gonna be a long three weeks, but I think we can hang in there and have some good wins." Recent Stanford graduate K.C. Corkery hasn't lost his enthusiasm, either. "I didn't know much about the World Team Tennis. I remember watching it as a kid and always enjoyed it. This is a great opportunity... It's so much fun when the fans get involved. Even when you're traveling and the fans are against us, the fans are interested in the match and I think that's what makes it fun for the players." Up next for the Buzz: an overdue day of rest, a July 11th road rematch with the Sportimes, and a July 12th return to Schenectady to face the Philadelphia Freedoms.