WASHINGTON — “This is not Wimbledon!”
The enthusiastic voice ringing through the Smith Center, the new home for the Washington Kastles on the campus of George Washington University, says this as a point of pride. On Opening Night of the 2014 season, the message is consistent for the fans in attendance: This is D.C.’s winningest professional team, and it does things its own way.
The Kastles have previously racked up a 34-game winning streak in World Team Tennis, and if you didn’t already know that, you’d be hard-pressed to avoid it upon arriving. You’re reminded of it everywhere — from the small banner hanging from the rafters high above the blue- and-red court to the massive one that stretches from baseline to baseline behind the VIP Dream Seats. It’s printed on the pocket schedule, and even on the wireless password sheet provided to media.
The most famous number 34 in Washington may still belong to Bryce Harper, but not for lack of trying.
The presentation at the Smith Center sets WTT apart from traditional tennis. There are cheerleaders; smoke plumes shooting toward the roof as players are introduced; and a dancing on-court public-address announcer on stilts.
“I think this has the chance to be one of the best venues in the world,” says coach Murphy Jensen, back for his sixth season at the helm. “You’re going to get 145 mile-per-hour serves right at your face.”
That’s the pitch — it’s an experience. Oh, and by the way, the Kastles are almost certainly going to win. This season’s hashtag, branded on the wall of the court in capital letters, is #REFUSETOLOSE.
World Team Tennis is an Americanized version of traditional tennis — an individual sport — shoehorned into a team format. The points are counted up 1-4 (instead of 15, 30, 40, game) and the sets are decided after five games. Five total sets are played: one each in men’s singles; women’s singles; men’s doubles; women’s doubles; and mixed doubles.
There are some added tiebreaker rules, but essentially, at the end of the five sets, the team with the most games won — not sets won — is victorious. Most everything else about the game is like traditional tennis, but the environment is entirely different.
“Team tennis always gave me the life, the energy to come back to tennis,” says Martina Hingis, the former top-ranked star who plays singles and doubles for the Kastles, before Wednesday’s home opener. “You wouldn’t want to miss out on that.”
Hingis was on her game Wednesday, teaming up with Leander Paes to cruise to a 5-1 victory in mixed doubles over the visiting Boston Lobsters to open the night. The home coach gets to choose the order for the evening, and this night Jensen had Hingis out for blood early, first in the pairs and then as the women’s singles representative.
Hingis trounced Kaitlin Whoriskey throughout, using a pair of precise, cross-court, backhand winners to outwit her opponent, nearly eight years her junior. She broke Whoriskey twice, a clinical deconstruction on the way to a 5-0 win, and the team match was essentially over already.
When the dust settles, the Kastles came away with a 25-8 triumph, matching their largest margin of victory in team history.
The Kastles have another winning streak going, having taken 15 straight matches. Of course, they still have a long way to go. If they are to break their own record, the Kastles will need to not only win out for the rest of the 2014 season, but take their first nine matches in 2015. That’s a tall order, but don’t bet against it.
The Kastles are back home at the Smith Center Thursday night as they take on the Philadelphia Freedoms. Tickets start at $8 and can be purchased at the door or online at www.washingtonkastles.com.