September 15, 2012 - World TeamTennis (WTT) - Washington Kastles
It's impossible to imagine the Washington Kastles embarking on the second-longest winning streak in major U.S. pro sports history without Bobby Reynolds and Leander Paes, the last two World TeamTennis Male MVPs.
After making major impacts over the last 30 matches, however, it would have been understandable for Reynolds and Paes to skip WTT Finals Weekend in Charleston, S.C.
Thankfully for Kastles fans, they chose Washington over a pair of appealing alternatives.
Coming off an appearance in the US Open men's doubles championship match -- his fourth final at a major this season -- Paes will be representing the Kastles instead of the Indian Davis Cup team this weekend, which is playing a home tie against New Zealand.
The reigning Australian Open men's doubles champion takes great pride in playing for his nation, highlighted by five Asian Games gold medals and a bronze-medal singles victory at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Paes holds four all-time records in India's 76-year Davis Cup history: most total wins (86), most doubles wins (38), most ties played (48) and most years played (22).
But as proud as Paes is of his accomplishments for India, the 13-time Grand Slam champion has developed a strong bond with Washington, D.C., his adopted second home since 2009.
Paes, the 2009 and 2011 WTT Male MVP, went 9-1 in men's doubles and 8-2 in mixed doubles this season for the Kastles before leaving Washington to represent India at the Olympics for a record-setting sixth time.
While training in London, the team captain followed live scoring of Washington's final four matches and sent supportive text messages to his Kastles teammates, holding out hope that he would have another opportunity to extend the team's historic unbeaten run.
He'll get that chance when he leads the Kastles against the New York Sportimes this evening.
Paes' men's doubles partner Reynolds had his own difficult decision to make when it was revealed that WTT Finals Weekend would occur immediately following the US Open. At the same time in 2011, the Kastles closer won singles and doubles titles at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Tulsa, Okla.
Though Tulsa is off the tennis calendar, Reynolds could have played at any of the seven Challenger tournaments being held this week in an effort to defend the 80 singles and 80 doubles ranking points he earned 12 months earlier.
Instead, those points will drop when the next ATP rankings are published on Monday, and Reynolds will fall from his current spot as the No. 143 singles and No. 119 doubles player in the world.
As in Paes' case, playing for perfection with the Kastles was too much to pass up for Reynolds. The American shined as a team player at Vanderbilt University, and has repeatedly said that he wishes WTT was a year-round league.
Reynolds finished the 2012 WTT regular season with an 11-3 record in singles and doubles, adding the WTT Male MVP award to his 2010 WTT Male Rookie of the Year honors.
Be sure to catch live streaming of Reynolds and Paes as they lead the Kastles against the New York Sportimes in the Eastern Conference Championship match tonight at 6:30 pm on WashingtonKastles.com.
The Eastern Conference Champions will advance to meet the Western Conference Champion Sacramento Capitals in the WTT Finals, airing live on NBC Sports Network tomorrow at 3:30 pm.
Kastles vs. Sportimes WTT Finals Weekend Preview
Watch Eastern Conference Championship Live Online at 6:30 pm!
Washington Kastles (14-0) vs. New York Sportimes (9-5)
Eastern Conference Championship
Family Circle Tennis Center - Charleston, SC
Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 6:30 pm
All-Time: Kastles lead Sportimes 10-4
Last Meeting: Kastles def. Sportimes 21-16 on July 25, 2012
Internet and Television Coverage
Live Streaming: WashingtonKastles.com
Real-Time Analysis: Facebook, Twitter
Tape Delay: NBC Sports Network at 12:30 am
Kastles Fan Exclusives in Charleston
Team Practice on Stadium Court from 10:30 am to 12 pm and 4:30 to 5:30 pm
Open Tennis on hard courts at Family Circle Tennis Center from 3 to 6 pm
Pre-Match Tailgate with food and music at 4:30 pm (Follow signs at entrance)
Post-Match Party featuring Kastles players at nearby Vespa Pizzeria
Coming off their second straight undefeated regular season, the Washington Kastles are playing for their third World TeamTennis championship since 2009 this weekend in Charleston, S.C.
The 14-0 Kastles' quest for perfection will feature reigning Wimbledon and Olympic doubles champion Venus Williams, who has led Washington to victory all eight times she's ever been in Coach Murphy Jensen 's lineup.
Joining Williams at the Family Circle Tennis Center are recent US Open doubles finalist Leander Paes, Australian Olympian Anastasia Rodionova, 2012 WTT Male MVP Bobby Reynolds and 2011 WTT Finals MVP Arina Rodionova .
To extend their historic 30-match winning streak and add to their 2009 and 2011 WTT titles, the Kastles must first defeat the New York Sportimes for the Eastern Conference Championship this evening at 6:30 pm.
If you aren't in Charleston, be sure to log on to WashingtonKastles.com for live streaming of the latest chapter in the Kastles/Sportimes rivalry! The Eastern Conference Championship will also be tape delayed on NBC Sports Network beginning at 12:30 am this evening.
The Sacramento Capitals, who won the Western Conference Championship convincingly 25-15 over the Orange County Breakers on Friday, await the winner of tonight's match in the WTT Finals tomorrow at 3:30 pm. That match will be broadcasted live on NBC Sports Network.
No team has come closer to stopping the Kastles' unprecedented unbeaten run than the Sportimes, who have held 10 match points over the course of three different matches against Washington. The 'cardiac' Kastles rallied to win each of those matches in a Supertiebreaker.
The Kastles' stirring streak appeared destined to end at 24 on July 21st in Albany until Williams saved four match points in women's singles to lead Washington to its biggest comeback in franchise history.
With Washington trailing New York by six games after four sets, Williams defeated fellow former World No. 1 Martina Hingis 5-1, won both games of overtime, and swept all seven points of a Supertiebreaker to give the Kastles a 21-20 victory.
Hingis was scheduled to compete in Charleston, but withdrew from WTT Finals Weekend on Wednesday for personal reasons. Taking her place is former Kansas City Explorer Kveta Peschke, who is currently ranked No. 12 in the world in doubles. Peschke will team with Hall-of-Famer John McEnroe and American veterans Ashley Harkleroad, Robert Kendrick and Jesse Witten.
Washington has won seven straight meetings with New York dating back to the 2010 season.
MS: Bobby Reynolds (WAS) vs. Jesse Witten (NYS)
WS: Venus Williams (WAS) vs. Ashley Harkleroad (NYS)
MD: Reynolds/Leander Paes (WAS) vs. John McEnroe/Robert Kendrick (NYS)
WD: Williams/Anastasia Rodionova (WAS) vs. Harkleroad/Kveta Peschke (NYS)
MXD: Williams/Paes (WAS) vs. Peschke/McEnroe (NYS)
SET BY SET
Reynolds and Witten just can't shake each other. Friendly rivals for 10 years on college, ATP and WTT courts, Reynolds leads the all-time series with his countryman 9-7. During the 2012 WTT regular season, the Kastles closer won both of his outdoor meetings with Witten, while the Sportimes' heavy-hitter won indoors in Albany. Reynolds will bring confidence with him to Charleston after qualifying at the US Open, while Witten has only played one match on tour since the regular season ended.
Hingis' absence changes the dynamics of the women's singles set, which would have been a rematch between her and Williams. Instead, Harkleroad steps in with an 0-3 lifetime record against Williams, having never won a set against the Kastles superstar. But the former Top 40 player proved she can shine in relief of Hingis earlier this season, winning 15 of the 20 games that she played in singles. Beginning with her rally against Hingis, Williams has won 13 of her last 15 games with the Kastles.
While Hingis felt the pressure of ending Washington's record streak in Albany, it may be McEnroe's turn to face the music in Charleston tonight. He did not enjoy a strong showing when the two teams met on July 25th, falling in men's and mixed doubles 5-3 to a Washington team that did not include the doubles wizard Paes. Those results may tempt Coach Jensen into making McEnroe play in the final set. As the No. 1 seed, the Kastles get to choose the all-important order of play.
Harkleroad and the newest Sportime Peschke have never played a tennis match with or against one another on tour. Chemistry will clearly be an issue for them. Williams and Rodionova, on the other hand, looked like long lost friends in wins over Kansas City and Boston during the regular season, but fell to Harkleroad and Hingis 5-3 in Albany. Expect a motivated Rodionova to give everything she's got tonight. She's been tweeting about the Kastles ever since she left for the London Olympics on July 23rd.
Though she is inexperienced as a Sportime, Peschke is anything but as a professional, peaking at No. 1 in the WTA doubles rankings, winning the Wimbledon women's doubles title in 2011 and reaching her third US Open mixed doubles final last week. The Czech will get along well in a set featuring the likes of Williams, Paes and McEnroe, who have combined to win 52 Grand Slam championships. Here's a stat worth remembering: McEnroe is 0-3 lifetime in mixed doubles against the Kastles.
KEY FOR THE KASTLES - BRING BACK THE MAGIC
July 22nd was the last time the players on tonight's Kastles roster competed together, before Williams, Paes and Anastasia Rodionova departed DC for The Olympic Games in London.
Since then, Williams has played doubles with her sister Serena Williams, Rodionova has teamed with three different players and Paes has partnered three men and two women.
Doubles comprises 60 percent of every World TeamTennis match, so it's important that the Kastles' pairings get back on the same page quickly.
To help in that effort, Coach Jensen ran team practices in DC on Tuesday and Wednesday before the Kastles traveled to Charleston and began training on-site at the Family Circle Tennis Center on Thursday.
The Sportimes hit the Kastles with their best shots in building a 19-13 lead indoors in Albany, and even that wasn't enough to end Washington's winning streak.
Outdoors in Charleston, with the Kastles coming off a superb US Open, it's hard to envision the Sportimes stopping Washington now.
See for yourself by enjoying live streaming of tonight's much-anticipated showdown at 6:30 pm on WashingtonKastles.com.