GOLD RIVER, Calif. — The World TeamTennis season completed its 14th season in this suburb of Sacramento Sunday afternoon with New Jersey defeating Idaho, 28-25, in the championship match before 2,212 fans and an ESPN audience. The league appears to be on solid ground heading into its 15th season: attendance was up 8% over last year, and though it might lose Jimmy Connors, it is hoping to add John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl.
But whether the Dukes' franchise is standing on the same solid ground is another question. Duke owner Fred Lieberman is deciding whether to sell the franchise. But even if he somehow keeps the Dukes, there undoubtedly will be some changes next year.
Mainly, the Dukes will move out of the John Wayne Tennis Club. The league was not happy with the Newport Beach site and neither was Lieberman.
"I don't see how this can go back there again," he said. "The parking situation is the biggest problem. My season interferes with (the Hyatt Newporter Hotel's) biggest season. I know people don't go to the matches because it's such a hassle."
But Ilana Kloss, the WTT's executive director, said many of the fans who attend matches at the John Wayne Tennis Club are not the kind the league wants.
"We want people out there pulling for their team like they do in Sacramento," Kloss said. "You don't get that feeling at John Wayne."
Lieberman said he has spoken to UC Irvine about playing there. But regardless of where they play and who owns them, Kloss said the Dukes will play in Orange County next year.
"We will definitely have a team in the Orange County area," Kloss said. "It's a big market and we want a presence there."
If Lieberman can not unload the Dukes, Kloss said the league will take over the franchise. Billie Jean King, the WTT's director and co-founder, already owns part of the New Jersey, San Antonio and Wichita teams.
For the third consecutive year, Greg Patton came up a loser in the WTT finals. Patton, who coached the men's team at UC Irvine for 13 years, was Newport Beach's coach when it lost in the finals the past two years.
"I'm not getting used to this, it's making it tougher," Patton said. "I know what the Buffalo Bills feel like. Obviously, I'm disappointed, but I'm just so happy we got here. The journey was the thing that I'll remember."
Idaho (10-7), a new franchise, reached the finals after losing six of its first eight matches--a similar scenario to the Dukes' 1992 final run.
"This a little different because I don't think that (1992) team believed it could win," Patton said. "I really think we thought we could win this."
New Jersey (13-3) led by one point after three sets, but the match turned when Martina Navratilova defeated Amy Frazier, a former Duke, 6-3, in the fourth set to give New Jersey a 22-18 lead entering the final set. Rick Leach and Manon Bollegraf forced overtime with a 6-4 victory over Navratilova and John de Jager, but Navratilova ended the match by holding her serve in the first game of overtime.