Midway through the Washington Kastles’ match against the Boston Lobsters Tuesday night, the enthusiastic emcee reminded tennis fans what kind of event they were watching.
“Anybody see Wimbledon over the weekend? Forget that! This is World TeamTennis. You all gotta make some noise!”
Indeed, the stately environs of the All England Club bore not even the slightest relationship to the scene at Kastles Stadium, where rock music and rowdiness replaced quiet and respectful attention.
But the Kastles, despite the involvement of eight-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, fell just short of translating that energy into victory, losing to the Lobsters 22-19 in their home debut.
It was, for sure, a mildly disappointing appearance for Williams, who woke at her part-time home in Paris on Tuesday morning and flew across the Atlantic for her lone appearance with the team in the District. Four days earlier, she fell to her older sister Venus in the Wimbledon final.
“I´m so excited to play,” Williams said before the match. “I´ve never been so ready to play so soon after such a big tournament.”
And she held up her end of the bargain, winning two of the three events she participated in, including women´s singles and women´s doubles with Mashona Washington.
“It was fun, I had a really great time and I´ve got great team,” she said after match. “I could have gone another two sets.”
Despite her long day, energy was not an issue for Williams, and she appeared in good spirits despite the loss in England.
“I was really disappointed,” she said of Wimbledon, where she claimed the doubles title with her sister. “It´s probably lingered, but I´ve been so busy I can´t say I´ve thought about it much.”
By the time Williams even got on the court, the Kastles faced a daunting deficit. Recently retired pro Justin Gimelstob and top junior Scott Oudesma fell to the Lobsters´ Jan-Michael Gambill and Amir Hadad 5-1, creating a tough situation in a competition in which victory is based on cumulative games won.
Williams and Gimelstob then fell 5-2 to Hadad and Racquel Kops-Jones in mixed doubles, bringing the overall gap to 10-3 with three matches left. Williams double-faulted twice in that event.
Gimseltob then blew a 4-1 lead en route to a 5-4 loss to Gambill in the men´s singles event before Williams and Washington beat Kops-Jones and Marie-Eve Pelletier 5-4 in women´s doubles. Williams won her singles event 5-2 over Pelletier to bring the match to 21-17 in favor of Boston. Under World TeamTennis rules, she had a chance to tie the whole match in overtime if she continued winning games. She managed two more games, but Pelletier won the third to clinch the victory for Boston and bring the Lobsters´ record to 2-2.
This is Williams´ third year playing World TeamTennis, but her connection to the league´s founder dates to her childhood in Southern California.
“I´ll never forget. I participated in a clinic, and Billie Jean King came,” Williams said. “I was like, ‘Wow, it´s just so cool to meet her.’ Because she´s such a pioneer, so that really made a mark.”
In a speech to the crowd before the match, King said bringing a franchise to the District was the realization of a lifelong dream.
“This has been on my master list for a long time,” the Tennis Hall of Famer said.
The Kastles formed in the District with the help of team owner and venture capitalist Mark Ein, whom city leaders initially laughed at for his vision of placing a tennis stadium in the heart of the city. His idea became a reality last night, with charged fans enjoying the breezy summer evening in a temporary facility built in the shadows of some of the city´s newest office buildings. Tickets for the event sold out almost immediately. Ein managed to find 100 additional seats over the past week. They sold out online within 15 minutes.
“It´s turned out pretty much as good as I could have expected,” Ein said. “We wanted to build a really unique and special experience for people in Washington, and I think that´s what they´re going to leave with.”