To say the Washington Kastles are in the midst of a winning streak is a gross understatement of a monumental achievement. DC’s World Team Tennis franchise hasn’t lost a match in TWO YEARS. In 2011, they won the WTT championship by completing the first perfect season in the 36-year history of the league. They have followed that up this year by authoring another undefeated regular season. The Kastles enter the playoffs this weekend with a chance to extend their historic run and bring another title to a Washington sports landscape that has been conspicuously bereft of them in recent years. DC businessman Mark Ein is the owner of the Kastles and the driving force behind bringing World Team Tennis to Washington. I spoke with Ein about the state of the franchise, his Washington tennis roots, and the pressure he and the team are under to keep their improbable streak alive.
How did you decide to launch the Kastles? What was the genesis of you starting a team in DC?
It was really two things that happened at once. I was having some conversations with people in the city, including the former deputy mayor. We used to get together from time to time and talk about ideas for the city, and I said, “You know, sometimes I think we just don’t have enough fun stuff going on in the city.” And he said they think about that a lot. Some cities have a lot of civic and community activities that people come together around, and we are always looking for new ways of doing that. He specifically mentioned Chicago, where people come down to the lake and the parks, so that thought had been in my head.
That was early 2007. Also around that time a friend of mine who was on the tennis tour had just played his first season of World Team Tennis, and he told me how much fun it was and how much he enjoyed it, how great it was for the fans. He was a pretty reserved guy, but all of a sudden he was unbelievably animated, playing to the crowd, high-fiving people, and I asked him, “What happened to you?” And he said, “Team tennis. I’ve totally come to appreciate the importance of getting the fans involved; it makes it better for them, and I play better.” I asked if he would introduce me to Billie Jean King, because I had wondered why we had never had a team in DC. I met her at the US Open in 2007, and that’s where it started.
What’s your tennis background?
I played my whole life. From a pretty early age, I played with my parents. I was the captain of my high school team at BCC [Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School]; I taught tennis in the summer; I was even a ball kid all the years I was growing up. I was a ball kid at what was then the Evening Star Tournament, which is now the Citi Open.
The Kastles’ season is only three weeks long. Is it hard to create a bond with the fan base when the season is so brief?
It’s an interesting question, because everyone always says to me, “Well, your season’s so short,” and compared with every other sports league it is very short—but compared with every other tennis event, it’s the longest one. The regular tournaments are a week, the Grand Slams are two, and we’re three weeks. I think the team format helps us stay top of mind with our fans around the year, as opposed to even a regular tournament, because we really try hard to keep our fans connected to how our players are doing when they’re on tour 12 months of the year.
You guys haven’t lost a match since 2010. How has the team managed to go undefeated for two years?
It has been remarkable, and I think it really is so many things coming together. We definitely have a good team and good players, but we also have the right players, who are very dedicated to the team and to being the highest quality professionals. We have a great coach who I think does a terrific job of keeping the team together, and I think a huge part is that our players are motivated by the support they get in the community. They see how much people are pouring themselves into the matches and how passionate they are about supporting the team, and it motivates them every single night to play their hearts out. I think that’s the difference between just being really good and having this thing that’s been happening over the past two years, where every single night they manage to find a way to win.
What kind of feedback have you gotten from the other sports owners in town? I know you have relationships with Ted Leonsis and Mark Lerner. Do you feel like you’re part of that club?
Everyone’s been really supportive since the beginning. I have probably known Ted the longest. We’ve been friends and have done business together, and he’s been really generous with advice and thoughts and support in different ways over the years. As the Kastles have become more established, the relationship with all of the owners has only grown. The Lerners have come to matches each of the past several years; Ted and his family have come; other members of Ted’s ownership have come; members of the Redskins organization have come. It’s one of the things I really like about Washington: People generally root for each other and like to see other people succeed, and I think it’s the same in the sports community as well. People have really gone out of their way to try to help us get going.
You have made fans out of the First Family. The First Lady has come to matches two years in a row, and she brought Sasha and Malia last year. Did you feel that that was a Washington seal of approval for the team?
We were really honored to have them, and you know they love tennis. They all play and love the sport. The fact that they came back again this year and were so enthusiastic about it was fantastic.
You have a chance this weekend to win your second straight championship and complete your second straight perfect season. How much pressure are you and the team feeling to keep the streak alive?
Well, we’re going to do everything we can to try to bring another championship to DC. I think the team really, really wants to win it again. They’re really focused on again putting themselves in the best position to win it again and I think we have a good shot at it for sure. There’s definitely extra pressure defending the title, and there’s extra pressure with the streak, but we’ve been there before.