At the Net: The Washington Kastles Take Over the Town

After attending game five of the Washington Capitals’ second-round-playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Kastles head coach Murphy Jensen was blown away—not by Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green but by the Capitals fans rocking the red and unleashing the fury.

“The fans are just as important to their success as the players scoring goals,” Jensen says of the hockey team.

It’s something he and Kastles management took note of and have tried to replicate at the Kastles World Team Tennis matches. Fan participation—cheering, chanting, jeering—is just one of the things separating WTT from the ATP, the main circuit for professional tennis.

“What’s great about it is that fans start rocking Kastles gear,” Jensen says. “Fan participation is at an all-time high. We’ve got cheerleaders, and we’ve got television. It’s like a Grand Slam environment.”

Photographs by Kyle Gustafson.

But to start the season, which lasts about a month and follows team-tennis rules, the Kastles couldn’t replicate the Capitals’ winning ways. Instead, they’ve looked more like Washington’s woeful baseball franchise, the Nationals, opening the season with four straight loses, devastating in a 14-match season.

Change came last Thursday, though, when Washington finally found its winning ways. The Kastles then notched three more victories, a streak that needs to continue if the team has any hope of making the Advanta WTT Championship Final, which Washington is hosting for the first time on July 26 at the brand-new Kastles Stadium at CityCenter DC.

Fresh off her Wimbledon championship, Serena Williams joined the Kastles on Friday, anchoring three of the team’s four wins (she sat out Sunday’s home match). Tonight, she makes her home debut. As of now, it’ll be her only home match with the Kastles this season—marquee WTT players commit to only a handful of matches a season—but Jensen says that could change.

“We’re not counting her out,” he says. “We might have some surprises later in the season.”

To prepare you for Williams’s debut, we’re breaking down how World Team Tennis works and highlighting three of the key remaining Kastles home matches.

Season format: There are two conferences with a total of ten teams, and 14 matches per team.

Playoffs: The top two teams from each conference advance to the semifinals, and the winners of those matches advance to the championship.

Match format: There are five total sets of tennis: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, and mixed. The coach determines which team members participate in which event. The home team decides the order of the matches at each event. Total score is determined by the tally of games won and lost.

Unique rules: WTT uses no-ad scoring, which means the first one to four points wins the game—unlike the ATP, which uses a love/15/30/40 point system and a win-by-two format. Players can score points on each serve; first to four points wins the game.First to five games wins the set. The final score of the match is cumulative based on all five sets. WTT invited overtimes and super tiebreakers for tennis, which extend the match, if necessary past the five sets. Substitutions are also allowed during a match.

KEY KASTLES MATCHES

When: Tuesday, July 14.
Opponent: Newport Beach Breakers.
Why watch: Serena Williams makes her home debut against the second-place team in the Western Conference, the Newport Beach Breakers. “Thank God Serena is back,” Jensen says. “She’s playing with as much intensity as she played with when she won Wimbledon. It’s one of those people where you say, ‘Am I really seeing what I’m seeing?’ ”
Tickets: Sold out.

When: Thursday, July 16.
Opponent: New York Sportimes.
Why watch: One of the elder statesmen of the WTT, the legendary John McEnroe anchors the New York Sportimes, currently the best team in the Eastern Conference. If the Kastles want any chance at competing for the championship, this is a team they need to beat.
Tickets: Reserved grandstand seats cost $45; chair seats cost $65.

When: Wednesday, July 22.
Opponent: Springfield Lasers.
Why watch: The Springfield Lasers currently hold the best record in the league, making the Kastles’ final home game potentially its most pivotal. Liezel Huber is the Lasers’ key player, a 36-time doubles champion.
Tickets: Reserved grandstand seats cost $25; chair seats cost $45.

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