Washington Kastles play to packed crowds in new World Team Tennis stadium

For tennis fans who want to see some of their favorite stars take the court between the downtime between Wimbledon and the start of the U.S. hardcourt season, the well-timed World Team Tennis (WTT) exhibition series more than fills the void.  The popularity of WTT in the Nation’s Capital in particular has resulted in a new stadium on the Southwest Waterfront, built specifically for the Washington Kastles, for the 2011 season.

Sellouts of a number of Kastles home matches this season have been buoyed by a number of factors.  One of these is that a squad always features a couple of star players to boost attendance; Venus and Serena Williams lead the Kastles this summer.  In addition, a competition format that tallies cumulative points allow spectators to see a number of players on any given night.  Two men and two women from a team’s roster comprise a team for each match, and play one set in each discipline – men’s and women’s singles, and men’s, women’s and mixed doubles – with five games winning the set, and any ties determined by a nine-point “supertiebreaker.”

The WTT season spans a few weeks in July, culminating in playoffs and a championship.  Meniscus covered select Kastles’ home matches, and posted recaps and photos throughout the regular season.

July 5: Kastles 21, Kansas City Explorers 18
The Washington Kastles started their 2011 season with Venus Williams as the headliner.  Earlier in the afternoon, Venus led a short kids’ tennis clinic before she and the Kastles the defending champion Kansas City Explorers in a set of matches watched by NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others.

July 7: Kastles 25, Boston Lobsters 10
With First Lady Michelle Obama and the First Daughters (Sasha and Malia) attending, a sellout crowd saw Serena Williams and the Washington Kastles overwhelm the Boston Lobsters in a lopsided encounter.  Jan-Michael Gambill, Eric Butorac, Mashona Washington (the sister of former ATP player MaliVai Washington) and Coco Vandeweghe (whose uncle Kiki played for the NBA for 13 years), represented the all-American Boston team (whose lineup includes James Blake and John Isner, who were not present).

July 12: Kastles 20, New York Sportimes 19
Despite having two marquee players on their squad – John McEnroe and Martina Hingis – as well as five match points, the New York Sportimes were shocked by the Kastles, playing without either of the Williams sisters and Sam Querrey (out for the WTT season with an elbow injury), in a supertiebreak (7-6).  With the victory, the Kastles remain the only undefeated team (7-0) in both conferences.  Among the spectators: former Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell.

July 14: Kastles 21, Springfield Lasers 20
It was up to Indian doubles stalwart Leander Paes and former NCAA No. 1 Bobby Reynolds to inch past Springfield in a “supertiebreak.” The duo teamed up to defeat Rik De Voest and rookie Jean Andersen in the deciding men’s doubles set. Latest celebrity appearance?  CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

July 15: Kastles 21, St. Louis Aces 20

July 18: Kastles 25, Sacramento Capitals 14
A near-capacity crowd on “Family Night” saw a dominant Kastles team (11-0) overwhelm its Western Conference opponents, the Sacramento Capitals (6-5), by winning all five matches. First-year World Team Tennis player Arina Rodionova of Russia, referred to by the announcer as “Hot Rod,” was particularly impressive, as she won her singles match by a score of 5 to 0. By then, the only uncertainty was not the result, but the margin of victory.

The Kastles clinched a playoff spot with a 10-0 record to start the season, and became the first undefeated squad in World Team Tennis history to win the championship. Murphy Jensen was named Coach of the Year, Arina Rodionova won the Female Player of the Year award and Leander Paes snatched up Male MVP honors.