Sandgren, Orlando Storm Hold off Defending Champs Springfield Lasers in Opening Match
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. - Substitutions and Extended Play are unique features in World TeamTennis. They both came into play in the opening match of the 2020 season, as the Orlando Storm held off a late rally by the defending champion Springfield Lasers 21-18 at The Greenbrier.
Orlando got great performances in substitute roles by Jessica Pegula and Tennys Sandgren. That duo lost mixed doubles, the final set of the night, 5-2 as the Lasers rallied back to force Extended Play, but won the first game of the extra session to secure the victory.
"It was fun to get out there and play tennis today," Sandgren said, likely speaking for more than just himself. The match marked the return to competitive play for the professional tennis world after COVID-19 shut everything down.
Sandgren was a substitute in that final set, playing in place of James Ward. Orlando entered mixed doubles with an 18-13 lead, but Springfield rallied behind veteran Robert Lindstedt and rookie Caty McNally. Lindstedt held serve and the Lasers broke Sandgren to grab an early 2-0 edge.
The Lasers' lead grew to 4-0 as they closed the overall gap to just 18-17. Lindstedt had a chance to serve Springfield to victory and force a Supertiebreaker, but Orlando won a deciding point to break serve and stop the Lasers' momentum.
Sandgren then held serve to make it 4-2 and give Orlando a 20-17 edge, which proved vital. McNally held serve to wrap up the 5-2 mixed doubles win, but Pegula responded in kind in the first game of Extended Play to end the match.
"We just tried to stay alive there after going down early and give ourselves a little cushion going into Extended Play," Sandgren said. "(Pegula) served phenomenally well in that last game."
Pegula was a super sub in her own right, filling in at the last minute for an ill Danielle Collins in women's singles, the second set of the day. That game was a battle of substitutes, as Springfield's Olga Govortsova fell behind 3-1 before acting coach Paul Nahon swapped her out for McNally, the 18-year-old rookie.
Nahon was another substitute. He filled in for coach JL de Jager, who is still waiting for his COVID-19 test results as part of WTT's protocols. McNally managed to hold serve, but Pegula's strong serve allowed her to close out a 5-2 win.
Sandgren and Springfield's Mitchell Krueger played a thrilling men's singles set to open the match. Sandgren, ranked 55th in the world, got the only break to earn the 5-3 win.
It was a three-set day for Sandgren. He joined James Ward in men's doubles and capitalized on Springfield miscues for a 5-3 win. The Storm took advantage of a double fault and some friendly help from the net cord twice to break Rojer's serve and take a 4-3 lead. Ward then held serve to push Orlando in front 15-8 at the halftime break.
Springfield's rookies got the job done in women's doubles, winning 5-3. Hayley Carter and McNally were equally stellar, with Carter holding things down at the net and McNally smoking the cross-court winner to secure the victory and pull Springfield within 18-13 heading into the final set.
NOTEBOOK: Springfield lost despite a 7-5 edge in deciding points, usually a harbinger of success. The Lasers outdueled the Storm 6-3 in doubles deciding points, but it wasn't enough to erase a strong start by Orlando in singles play.
WHAT'S NEXT: The Lasers get a day off before facing the Philadelphia Freedoms Tuesday at 7 p.m. Eastern. No rest for the Storm, however. They'll square off with the Vegas Rollers at 1 p.m. Eastern. The Rollers and Storm are in their second year of WTT competition. Both matches will be televised live on ESPN 2.
Jeff Kessinger is in his sixth season covering the Springfield Lasers and WTT, and 18th as a sportswriter. Follow him on Twitter @JKessingerSGF.
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