Freedoms' Kerr adjusts, then enjoys the game

Jordan Kerr , here in practice Monday, split two doubles matches in the Freedoms' victory. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Jordan Kerr , here in practice Monday, split two doubles matches in the Freedoms' victory. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 12, 2012

When Jordan Kerr's name was announced over the loudspeakers, the Australian ran through the hidden curtains and onto the court at the Pavilion at Villanova, where an eagle mascot wearing a white Philadelphia Freedoms T-shirt stood.

Kerr didn't hesitate when he ran toward the mascot. He leaped and chest-bumped the eagle, who played along.

A few minutes later, Kerr stood next to his Freedoms teammates and swung his racket at an imaginary ball as the Black Eyed Peas played over the sound system.

This isn't where Kerr imagined his professional career would take him - stopping in U.S. cities as a player in World TeamTennis, which removes an aspect of tennis that casual fans call boring and purists call essential. Here, there are no service lets or deuces. It's do-or-die tennis that tests the players' focus.

Hip-hop music plays over the loudspeakers and a public-address announcer offers words of encouragement to players on the home team.

"It's very different from what I'm used to," Kerr said. "It's going to take some getting used to. It's a completely different dynamic with everything going on. But I think it will be fun."

Four years ago, Kerr was in Beijing for the Olympics. Those were the best days of his tennis career. Aside from Beijing, not much about Kerr's career jumps out.

As a singles player, he's never been ranked in the top 300. In his career, he has made less than $1 million in prize money. By comparison, Roger Federer won $1.4 million Sunday at Wimbledon.

But he plays a game for a living. And if you told him that's what he would do for a living when he was a child, he would have taken it every time.

"I love what I do," Kerr said. "What more can you ask for?"

His career took a swing when he was 23 and turned his attention away from singles to doubles.

At 5-foot-11, Kerr doesn't have the height for a professional tennis player - let alone a doubles player, where height is a major factor since double players spend more time at the net. A taller player naturally is able to reach more balls at the net.

But Kerr worked at it. He became more agile, which allowed him to go back and chase lob shots. And he added more spin to his serve to push opponents out wide and open up the middle of the court.

By 2004, he was the No. 55 doubles player. In 2005, he was No. 41. In 2008, he peaked as the 23d-ranked doubles player and represented Australia in the Olympics.

"It's a different game," Kerr said of doubles. "I had to work at it."

Kerr is No. 82 in doubles. At this point in his career, the baby-faced 35-year-old just wants to continue playing tennis. He'll be watching the Olympics from the United States and rooting for his country in a few weeks.

But right now, he's focused on the young World TeamTennis season. After losing men's doubles, 5-1, with James Blake as a partner in the season opener Tuesday, Kerr lost in men's doubles, 5-4, with Luka Gregorc in a tiebreaker before winning in mixed doubles, 5-4, with Kristyna Pliskova in a tiebreaker Wednesday night as the Freedoms defeated the Boston Lobsters, 24-17, at the Pavilion.

To force the tiebreaker in men's doubles, Kerr released three huge serves back-to-back-to-back. Kerr and his coach, Josh Cohen, exchanged a big high five as the thousand or so fans cheered. Then Rihanna started playing over the loudspeakers and Kerr quietly returned to the baseline.


Contact Chad Graff at 215-854-4550 or cgraff@philly.com. Follow on Twitter @ChadGraff.

 

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