Washington got off to a dominating start in the first half before losing momentum in the second half. But although Kansas City forced overtime, the Kastles were able to win the match before it got too dramatic.
The opening event was men’s doubles, pitting the Kastles’ Leander Paes and Bobby Reynolds against the Explorers’ Alex Kuznetsov and Ricardo Mello. Kansas City began by breaking Reynolds‘ serve, aided by two double faults, but Washington tied the match with a break of its own.
There were no more breaks in the match, as the teams traded points to reach a 4-4 tie. But the Kastles dominated the tiebreaker that followed, taking the first four consecutive points en route to a 5-1 win in the game and a 5-4 win in the match.
In mixed doubles, Venus Williams and Paes took on Christina McHale and Kuznetsov. The two sides were even until the Kastles broke to take a 4-3 lead. When Washington apparently won its fifth game, a review showed that Williams‘ serve was illegal, and the point had to be replayed. But the Kastles were able to hold on for the 5-3 victory.
“He’s the Washington Kastles’ Rafael Nadal,” Kastles coach Murphy Jensen said of Reynolds. “He’s fast, he’s furious, he feeds on the crowd, he feeds on the energy and he’s going to feed on some spaghetti later tonight.”
McHale won the first two games to take an early lead, but Williams fought back to force overtime. The best-of-nine game was tied at 4 when McHale served the final point and Williams returned it long for a 5-4 loss.
The Explorers continued to inch closer in women’s doubles, the final event. McHale and Madison Brengle won the first four games against Williams and Rennae Stubbs. The Washington duo was down 3-0 in the fifth game but came back to win it before dropping four consecutive points in the final game for a 5-1 loss.
League scoring rules dictate that if the losing team wins the final event, the match goes into overtime, either until the leading team wins or until the losing team ties the match, at which point it goes into super-overtime.
But Williams and Stubbs put a definitive end to the match by winning four straight points in the first game of overtime, clinching the victory.
“Tonight is a perfect example of why this format is so exciting,” Jensen said. “We lost momentum in the final set. On the bench earlier in the match, I said, ‘We might start strong, but we have to finish strong.’ We didn’t finish as strong as I’d have liked, but we played a perfect overtime by winning four points in a row.”
The new stadium’s inaugural event was memorable, and Jensen was hard-pressed to describe the environment.
“If I could sum it up in a word, it would be — you can’t sum it up in a word. It’s electric. It’s majestic. It’s beautiful. It’s the best stadium in Washington, D.C.”