When the players took the court at Kastles Stadium at The Wharf on Tuesday night, the fans were greeted by unfamiliar faces.
With the likes of Leander Paes, Anastasia Rodionova and the Williams sisters in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Arina Rodionova injured, the Washington Kastles had to field a team of backup players, which included Raquel Kops-Jones and Edina Gallovits-Hall replacing the Rodionova sisters and Treat Huey taking the place of Paes.
But just like the previous 26 matches, they emerged victorious, with a 21-16 over the Philadelphia Freedom.
“We’ve got new faces, but it’s the same team with the same goal which is excellence and to play for one another and the D.C. community,” said coach Murphy Jensen.
They will continue to play these non-regulars until the World Team Tennis playoffs begin in mid-September and the Olympians have returned.
The talent lost without regulars Paes and the Rodionova sisters has not gone unnoticed, and the team is well aware of what it will be missing.
“I think it’s impossible to fill their shoes,” said Bobby Reynolds, who secured the victory with a 5-0 in the fifth set. “With Leander going to his sixth Olympics, he’s been playing for 20-something years. You see what he brings on the court night in and night out.”
Even Jensen admits their loss is difficult, but thinks the team will still thrive in their final few matches.
“You can’t replace individuals like Venus [Williams] and Anastasia, they’re great in their own way,” said Jensen. “At the end of the day, it’s less about wins and losses, and more about the team and the city. We can look in the mirror any night, whether we win or lose, and know it’s all right.”
Expectations for the Kastles are high with the undefeated streak on the line each match and the potential of winning another WTT Championship. Jensen knows what is expected of him and the team, but he he just wants to take each match one at a time.
“The expectations from my point of view are that they continue [what they have been doing],” said Jensen. “Play for one another, play for D.C. and play for the fans. At the end of the day, leave it all on the court.”
Something the Kastles pride themselves on is the concept of a true team effort. Everything they do is for the team and the organization, and that’s something the players have said is a key ingredient for their success.
“To play these last three years as a team from Washington and as a Kastle, it’s memories that are the highest of my whole career,” said Reynolds. “I go out there and give it all I’ve got for the fans because when I look at the bench and see how much [my teammates] care … it gives me extra motivation.”
Jensen even compares the satisfaction of being a part of the Kastles’ legacy to his men’s double title in the 1993 French Open
“What made winning the French Open so extraordinary and special was that I did it with my brother,” said Jensen. “This is on equal par with that, if not stronger in certain areas.”
Team tennis is something the players wait for every year with great anticipation.
“I say it all the time: I would play team tennis all year-round if I could,” said Reynolds. “Hopefully [Kastles owner] Mark [Ein] will take World Team Tennis all year round, then I won’t have to play anymore on the tour.”
One of Jensen’s fondest coaching memories was just before he took the reins of the Kastles. He had a conversation with Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda and took something away from it that he’ll never forget.
“I asked him, ‘What’s the secret to being a great coach and having a great team?,’ said Jansen. “He said, ‘If you get your team to care about one another and to love one another, I guarantee you success.’ That’s exactly the culture I try to instill into the Kastles family.”
• Newcomers Kops-Jones and Gallovits-Hall had a rough first match together as they lost 5-2 in women’s doubles. Gallovits-Hall, however, won her singles match 5-3.
• The Kastles have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference Championship that will be held Sept. 14 in Charleston, S.C.