- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Serena Williams had just lost to her sister in the finals at Wimbledon, and she did not appear to take it well.

“You don’t look happy,” a reporter commented.

“I don’t?” Williams replied. “I wonder why.”

Tennis fans in the District hope her mood has improved over the last 72 hours as they await her debut as the marquee player for the new Washington Kastles of World TeamTennis.

Tuesday night she will seek to forget about the loss on the grass-court at the All England Club and embrace the hard surface of the temporary tennis stadium at the corner of 11th and H streets NW.

“I think you’re always bummed when you lose,” said Mashona Washington, a fellow touring pro and Kastles teammate. “But I think she’ll come right in and be professional as she always is. And hopefully she’ll be as aggressive as she can possibly be given the circumstances.”

The several thousand fans anticipated at Kastles Stadium would expect nothing less from Williams, the eight-time Grand Slam champion with a power game that is nearly unrivaled in women’s tennis.

“She obviously is a little bigger than a lot of the girls out there, but she moves so well,” said Kastles coach Thomas Blake, whose brother James is ranked in the top 10. “Her ability to hit… well, she hits as hard as a guy out there. She’s obviously one of the best women’s players of all time.”

For Kastles owner Mark Ein, convincing Williams to play for his team might prove to be his best business decision. The venture capitalist spent much of last week seeking ways to add seats to an already sold-out stadium for the match against the Boston Lobsters.

“I can’t imagine there being any more enthusiasm,” Ein said. “I thought she would be an ideal player for our franchise. We don’t have a women’s tennis tournament in D.C., so I thought drafting a marquee woman would make sense. She’s the easiest choice I’ve had to make the whole time.”

Williams was still overseas and not available to speak to reporters Monday. She will make her first appearance Tuesday with clinics at Kastles Stadium, and she will speak to members of the media before the match.

The Kastles have managed to take some pressure off Williams by winning their first two matches last week against the Philadelphia Freedoms and Delaware Smash. And the format of World TeamTennis, with innovative rules and crowd interaction encouraged, could be a welcome respite from the high-pressure environment of Wimbledon.

“It was always my brother’s feeling and the feeling of the guys we had for the last two matches that after being on your own for the entire year - just playing for yourself and being kind of solitary - it’s nice to just come and have a relaxed kind of practice,” Blake said. “And she’ll have the competition, but you have five other people pulling for you and helping you out, which is nice.”

The format of World TeamTennis could allow Williams to play a singles event along with women’s and mixed doubles. But team sources yesterday said she probably would play two events, with the order and roster yet to be finalized. Williams’ Kastles teammates now include Washington, Scott Oudsema and former pro Justin Gimelstob. The Kastles recruited Vince Spadea and Tripp Phillips to fill in while Gimelstob worked as a broadcaster at Wimbledon last week.

World TeamTennis was the brainchild of tennis legend Billie Jean King, who helped form the league in 1974. The league now has 11 teams, all with a mixture of stars, notable veterans and top juniors.

“[Williams] is obviously a huge star wherever she goes,” Blake said. “Anytime you can get someone like that, you have to. I think she’s over [the loss] now. Obviously, she never likes to lose, and that’s one of the things that makes her great. She’ll be ready.”

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