SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI — JL de Jager is a maestro when it comes to assembling a World TeamTennis lineup. That’s part of the reason his Springfield Lasers are the defending league champions and sit all alone atop the standings two matches into the season.
Springfield rode solid performances from singles players Miomir Kecmanović and Anna Blinkova to an early lead as they routed the Orlando Storm 23-15 at Cooper Tennis Complex.
“(Lopez) hasn’t won one match, so he’s been struggling. I wanted to put him on the court right away,” de Jager, in his 13th season with the Lasers, said. “The 10-minute warmup helped us, too. By the time they started playing, those balls were fluffy. He couldn’t work his serve.”
Kecmanović was dominant in his match with Feliciano Lopez, a showdown between two top-70 ATP players. Kecmanović, ranked 66th, got an early break to go up 3-1 on Lopez, ranked 59th. He then held serve the rest of the way to win 5-2 and punctuated the victory with a perfectly-placed ace.
Then it was the rookie’s turn. Blinkova nearly let a big lead get away, racing ahead 3-1 over Whitney Osuigwe before the Storm’s young star fought back. She got within 4-3 and was one point away from a break before Blinkova roared back to life. The 20-year-old Russian rallied from down love-40 to win the game and take the set 5-3. That staked Springfield to a big 10-5 lead after just two sets.
New doubles partners Blinkova and Abigail Spears were dominant in their set, besting Osuigwe and Darija Jurak 5-1. The Lasers pair managed to break both Storm servers en route to the easy win.
Spears played in two winning sets for Springfield, teaming up with Jean-Julien Rojer to top Jurak and Ken Skupski 5-4 (5-3) in the final set of the night. Just two matches in, Spears appears very comfortable with her doubles partners.
“(Blinkova) is really fun to play with because she has so much energy and she wants to win every point,” Spears said. “It’s really motivating to play with her. (Rojer) has a lot of energy, too. He’s very positive and laid back.”
The only blemish for Springfield was a 5-3 loss in men’s doubles. The Storm’s team of Skupski and Evan King got a break of Enrique Lopez Perez — the third break of the set — to go up 4-3. King then held serve to wrap up the victory for Orlando (2-1).
“We did well to start strong,” Skupski said. “Playing away, it’s difficult to know how you’re going to play because it’s different conditions than what you’re used to at home. You don’t know until the middle of the match how it’s going to go, so you just pick a target and try to hit it and hope for the best. We both hit the ground running today.”
It was Springfield’s night, though. The Lasers are now 2-0 as they start their defense of the franchise’s first WTT championship.
“(Blinkova) could’ve won 5-1, the mixed doubles could’ve won 5-1. It should’ve been 24-11,” de Jager said. “But I’m not going to complain. We got a W.”
It was Kids Night at Cooper Tennis Complex, with face painting, snow cones, balloon animals and a tennis clinic all free. The crowd included tennis players from several local high schools, including Monett, Republic, Springfield Central and Webb City.
The Lasers and Storm shook hands at the net before the match, part of The Handshake Challenge. It’s an initiative spearheaded by de Jager. The Handshake Challenge is a show of respect and good sportsmanship between opponents.
Kudos to Cindy Jobe, who runs the music for the Lasers. After Orlando’s Ken Skupski went up for a smash, but just tipped the ball to give the point to Springfield, she had MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This” ready to go. The song drew laughter from all four men’s doubles players, including Skupski.
IN THE CROWD
Springfield Mayor Ken McClure was part of a big crowd at Cooper Tennis Complex. Derryl Harris, WTT’s vice president of league operations was also enjoying the match.
Orlando returns home for a star-studded showdown with the San Diego Aviators at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN+. Lopez and Madison Keys will feature for the Storm. San Diego gets a boost from Ryan Harrison. The Lasers continue their homestand when the New York Empire visits Cooper Tennis Complex. Kecmanovic will once again suit up for the Lasers. The 7 p.m. match will be carried by ESPN+ and WTT.tv. Follow results live at WTTc.om/scores, SpringfieldLasers.com and OrlandoStorm.com.