Grand Slam

The Washington Kastles intend to repeat their championship season, and the heat is on.

By: Sophie Gilbert

Forget Ryan Zimmerman’s heroic winning home run last night. For the next three weeks, Washington is all about tennis. The Washington Kastles—the team includes Grand Slam phenoms Venus and Serena Williams as well as Wimbledon doubles champion Leander Paes—are currently defending their title as 2009 World Team Tennis champions. After a 21-15 victory against the Philadelphia Freedoms last night, and before tonight’s home clash between Venus Williams and New York Buzz’s Martina Hingis, Washingtonian.com caught up with Kastles coach Murphy Jensen to see how the team is coping with the literal and metaphorical heat.

How is everything going at the moment? The Kastles won last night . . . .
“Everything’s going great. Last night was a huge win for us. Angie Haynes is the best player on the team, and I’m actually thinking of playing her instead of Venus tonight.”

Really?
“No. But our team’s great. We have maybe the best World Tennis team ever assembled. We have something like 70 Grand Slam titles on this team and the best stadium in the league. And the crowd support is incredible—it was just electric last night. It feels like the Super Bowl here because everyone’s talking about the Kastles all over town, and Serena’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It’s exciting, and last night was some of the best doubles I’ve ever seen. So we’re trying to do something special with our killer group and solidify the win we had last year.”

Did you get to go to Wimbledon to see Serena and Paes win?
“No, I was back home taking care of my dad and preparing stateside. But Leander showed us his French Open trophy, and on the private jet he was passing around his Wimbledon trophy. It’s great having the same guys from last year because there’s a lot of love here. There’s a sense of family and having something special to accomplish. We’re really playing to be perfect. It might not happen, but if we keep practicing this way, it’s possible.”

How is the team dealing with the heat?
“I’ve got some serious pros. It’s brutal out here on the practice courts, but they’re doing what needs to be done. We’re playing 14 out of 18 nights, so it’s important to keep sharp and keep your head in the game. It’s not too hot to watch, and it’s not too hot to play—it’s the practicing that can be a little sketchy.”

What are the expectations this year for the Kastles as reigning champions?
“I think the expectation is to win. But the reality is it’s not like a real pressure. It’s different than it was last year, no question, but at the same time you can only play a point at a time. Our first match, we won three out of five sets and still ended up losing on a tie break.”

How did you manage to get both of the Williams sisters to play for the Kastles?
“They’ve got a place in their hearts for Washington. They’re part of an inner-city tennis league that has some beautiful facilities here that they support. Besides Los Angeles, this is their town—they’re both really big Washingtonians. They have family here. And Serena was going to be here, and Venus wanted to be close to her sibling. So we’re really lucky.”

And are you happy to be back in Washington this year?
“It’s a dream come true. Last year I had the best summer of my life, and this year I’m looking to come back and do the same thing.”

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