Kastles 2018 Season Ends; Breakers Defeat Kastles 23-17 in Season Finale
The Washington Kastles' grab at the remaining spot in the 2018 World TeamTennis Finals came to an end last night in Newport Beach. The Kastles needed a win over the Orange County Breakers and a loss from the Springfield Lasers to advance. But at the end of the night, neither scenario played out.
After winning the first set comfortably, the Kastles saw the last four events slip away to give the Breakers their final victory of the season, 23-17. The Lasers' win over the Aviators that followed, tied Washington in third place with San Diego in the final league standings.
The Kastles got off to a good start.
The evening started strong for Washington. Kastles all-star Tennys Sandgren picked up right where he left off in San Diego the previous night, when he defeated the Aviators' Marcus Willis, 5-0, in the most astonishing comeback in the 11-year history of the Kastles franchise. Sandgren extended his singles winning streak to nine games in a row against Barbadian Davis Cup star Darian King and opened the match shooting to a 4-0 lead.
Sandgren totally dominated King in the first half of the set. His serve was practically untouchable and in his return games, he controlled the center of the court with penetrating groundstrokes that completely overwhelmed King. Sandgren held and broke King twice to race off to a 4-0 lead. But in the fifth game, when he attempted to close out the set, Sandgren suffered an unexpected letdown.
King held serve to get a foothold in the set, 1-4. Then in the next game, Sandgren started to miss his first serve. He committed a string of unforced errors, including a double-fault, allowing King to break for 2-4. When King's serve came around again, Sandgren noticeably began to display signs his dominant arm was bothering him. There was concern as Sanddgren's start with the team this season was delayed due to an elbow injury he sustained during the grass court season.
Much to the relief of the Kastles' bench, Sandgren returned to form in his next service game. He found his first serve again and hit a monster forehand to close out the set, 5-3, and put Washington on top. But Sandgren would not be able to match the level of play he exhibited in those first four games for the remainder of the match.
King continued to challenge Sandgren and partnered with 12-time Grand Slam doubles champion Daniel Nestor in men's doubles. King was initially supposed to partner with Marcelo Demoliner for this event, but in a deal the previous evening, the Lasers traded Nestor and their 2019 2nd round draft pick to the Breakers for Demoliner and Orange County's 2019 3rd round draft pick. The move was successful for the Breakers and quite costly for Sandgren and 2014 Australian Open champ and three-time Wimbledon doubles finalist Robert Lindstedt.
Nestor and King struck first in the men's doubles set. After breaking Sandgren and holding to go up 3-1, they tied the match score at 6-6. Lindstedt held in the next game to halt the Breakers' advance and reclaimed the match lead with a break of King's serve in the next game to tie the set at 3-3. But again, King and Nestor picked away at Sandgren. In his next service game, the Breakers drew errors by being consistent and controlling the net and earned breakpoints at 2-3. Though Sandgren saved both with big serves to take the lead in the set, 4-3, the persistent play from King and Nestor began to take its toll.
Using his left hand to great advantage, Nestor held serve to force the set to a tiebreak, where he stole the first point on Lindstedt's serve with a sensational poach. King followed with a pair of first serves that enabled Nestor to take control of the net and hold both their service points. Down 1-3, Sandgren missed both of his next two first serves and the Breakers pounced on his second. King made a return error on the first, but the second was dismantled by Nestor with a down the line pass. Nestor then closed out the tiebreak on the next point with an ace to take the second set 5-4(2) and shrink the Kastles' lead to a single game to start the third set at 9-8.
The third set was a highly-competitive women's singles showdown between Kastles all-star Madison Brengle and 2017 WTT Rookie of the Year Yanina Wickmayer. In their first meeting this season in DC, Brengle propelled the Kastles to victory with a decisive win over Wickmayer, 5-3, but in Newport Beach Wickmayer tried a different tactic.
From the very first ball it seemed Wickmayer was determined to keep the points as short as possible. Brengle is one of the best singles players in the league. She devours her opponents by dragging them into lengthy rallys that they cannot sustain. The longer the point goes on, the more likely Brengle will win it. Wickmayer knows the drill and last night held nothing back. The first four games of the set saw both players trying to impart their style of play on the other.
Both used the return as their weapon of choice - Brengle to force brutal rallies, Wickmayer to crack winners - for a total of four breaks in a row. At 2-2, Wickmayer tempered her aggression enough to get ahead in her first service game. She constructed better points and played with more patience to score the first hold of the set and tie the overall match score at 11-11. But Brengle promptly yanked the lead back for Washington with a hold of her own to tie the set at 3-3.
A tug of war continued, point by point, over the next two games, with Brengle winning most of the extended rally points and Wickmayer scoring most of the winners. But after Wickmayer held a second time to go up 4-3 and tie the match at 12-12, the momentum seemed to swing in the Breakers' favor. At 2-all on Brengle's serve, the Kastles all-star committed a rare unforced error to bring on two set points. In signature fashion, Brengle fought to the very last point. She dared Wickmayer to break her on a deciding point and pushed her to the brink. It took all of Wickmayer's energy, but at the end of a nail-biting extended rally, she forced Brengle to miss, securing the set, 5-3, and giving Orange County the lead for the first time in the match, 13-12.
Brengle and Wickmayer would go another round in the next set of women's doubles. The prospect of a Kastles win seemed more likely with WTT doubles star Andreja Klepac sidelined, due to injury. Klepac and Wickmayer were the best women's doubles team in the league last season, when the Breakers won the championship. For this do-or-die match, Brengle and Wimbledon women's doubles finalist Nicole Melichar would face Wickmayer and the unknown quantity of Jacqueline Cako. The three-time ASU All-American reached a career-high doubles ranking of #87 in the world this spring, and made her WTT debut as a substitute just two days prior to the match and had lost all three of her previous sets. Against Washington, however, Cako excelled.
After two routine holds to start the set at 1-1, the Breakers pulled ahead in the third game on Brengle's serve. They earned three breakpoints at 3-1. The Kastles saved the first two, courtesy of Breakers errors, but on the third they got their first real look at Cako's skills. After a sound return from Wickmayer, the Breakers rookie took over the net and scored the break with smart volleying. Cako then backed the break up with a hold at love to go up 3-1 in the set, which gave the Breakers a 16-13 lead overall.
Melichar held in the next game to shrink the lead, but the following two games showed Cako's real potential. In Wickmayer's next service game it seemed impossible for the Kastles to keep the ball out of reach of Cako at net. Successive volley winners led to a rare missed return from Brengle, giving the Breakers a vital game to go up 4-2. It also put the pressure on Brengle to hold to stay in the set.
The Breakers didn't let up. They earned three breakpoints by attacking Brengle's serve. Brengle was able to save the first two points - despite starting them with second serves - with tenacious counterpunching, a signature tactic of her singles success. But on the third and deciding point, Brengle was forced to hit another second serve and this time the Kastles paid the price with a fierce return from Wickmayer. It overpowered Melichar at the net and sealed the set, 5-2, giving Orange County an 18-14 lead going into the final set. This was the exact same score and identical deficit Washington faced the previous night in San Diego against the Aviators: 18-14. In Newport Beach, however, a comeback wasn't in the cards for the night.
The final set was decided by mixed doubles, an event the Kastles had excelled at most of the season. Lindstedt was the league leader and Melichar was not far below him. But at Palisades Tennis Club they ran into two Breakers rookies who were determined to prove their worth: one a talented upstart, the other a talented Grand Slam champion.
Trailing 18-14, Lindstedt and Melichar attempted to breakdown the Grand Slam champ first. On Nestor's serve, they managed to force a deciding point. But faced with the challenge, Nestor hit a perfectly placed body serve at Lindstedt to hold and start the set on top, 1-0. Lindstedt followed with a much easier hold to get a first look at Cako's serve. After a wobbly start which saw the Breakers rookie fall behind 0-2, Cako bounced back to even the score at 2-all. A combination of quality serves from Cako and volley winners from Nestor averted an early break and set a respectable tone on the Breakers' female serve.
Melichar responded with a solid service game of her own. Serving up 3-2, Melichar double-faulted to bring on a deciding point, but the pressure didn't seem to phase her. With great confidence, like the reigning Wimbledon Mixed Doubles Champion she is, Melichar unloaded a hard first serve that was impossible for Cako to keep away from Lindstedt. The Swedish Davis Cup star and 2014 Australian Open champ put the return away defiantly to tie the set at 2-2.
In the next game, the Kastles won three points in a row to earn four breakpoints on Nestor's serve. This time, the Breakers couldn't hold the Kastles off. Lindstedt scored the break on the second point with a down the line return winner to take the set lead, 3-2. Lindstedt continued the momentum on the first point of the next game, hitting an ace by Nestor, and looked like he would win the game easily when he served for it at 3-1. Converting one of these game points would have led to a 4-2 Kasttles lead which would have presented a good opportunity to break the newcomer Cako's serve and then hold Melichar's serve in extended play to set up a Supertiebreaker to decide the match. But, as happened often in the 2018 WTT season, the Kastles couldn't convert an opportunity and the momentum swung the opposite way after a string of errors and string of second serves unexpectedly enabled the Breakers to get back in the game. They ended up breaking Lindstedt on the deciding point off a volley winner from Cako.
The score was now tied at 3-3, instead of a 4-2 lead for Washington, and Orange County maintained their four game lead at 21-17. After Cako held to go up 4-3, hopes of a sensational Kastles comeback steadily began to decline. On the first point in Melichar's next service game, Cako stunned the crowd, and Melichar, after running into the deuce court to hit a return winner on Nestor's half of the court off of Melichar's let serve. The return, unique to World TeamTennis, hastened the momentum that had slipped away from Sandgren in the first set.
Melichar and Lindstedt fought like the champions they are to reclaim the momentum, but on the deciding point Cako clinched the break and set, 5-3, and with it the match, 23-17.
An hour after the Kastles-Breakers match was over, Springfield decisively closed out their win over the Aviators, 25-18, in San Diego which clinched the second spot in the WTT Finals for the Lasers, which would have been the case even if the Kastles won. The Kastles finished the 2018 season tied for the third beset record at 7-7 with the Aviators, but own the tiebreaker due to a 2-1 head-to-head record and ended up one game behind the Lasers.
It was small consolation for the Kastles to end a season that started with high hopes and a lot of momentum at 6-2 before seeing the chances at a record 7th WTT title slip away.
WTT Finals: Springfield at Philadelphia Sunday at 2 PM
Watch on WTT.TV and ESPN2
The Freedoms and Lasers will square off for the King Trophy this Sunday at the Daskalakis Athletic Center at Drexel Univeristy in Philadelphia. Watch the WTT Final on WTT.TV at 2 PM this Sunday on August 5, with additional coverage beginning at 3 PM on ESPN 2, to see who claims the King Trophy!
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World TeamTennis Stories from August 3, 2018
- Kastles 2018 Season Ends; Breakers Defeat Kastles 23-17 in Season Finale - Washington Kastles
- Taylor Townsend, Marcin Matkowski Named World TeamTennis MVPs - WTT
- Springfield Defeats San Diego 25-18 to Advance to WTT Finals - WTT
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