- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

Even without Serena Williams, the Washington Kastles had just enough to reach the World TeamTennis championship match.

The Kastles defeated the New York Sportimes, who were without their own big name in John McEnroe, 22-19 in overtime in the Eastern Conference finals Friday night at Kastles Stadium.

Coach Murphy Jensen’s squad will face the Springfield Lasers in the championship match at 5 p.m. Sunday at Kastles Stadium.

Headed into the fourth event of the night, women’s doubles, the match was tied at 12-12. In front of WTT co-founder Billie Jean King, Washington’s duo of Rennae Stubbs and Olga Puchkova broke New York’s serve in the set’s fourth and sixth games, eventually defeating Abigail Spears and Christina Fusano 5-2.

The win gave the Kastles a 17-14 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.

“It’s a dream come true for our team to come together the way we have,” Jensen said. “Being 0-4 at the beginning of the season [and] to turn it around and be in the championship match in D.C. - forget about it. My head’s about to explode.”

Washington’s Scott Oudsema lost to New York’s Robert Kendrick 5-4 in a tiebreaker in the night’s final event, men’s singles, forcing overtime with the match at 21-19 in favor of the Kastles. But Oudsema held serve in the first game of overtime and sealed the Kastles’ spot in the finals.

Earlier in the night, the Kastles’ elite mixed doubles pair of Leander Paes, who earlier in the day was named men’s MVP of the league, and Stubbs defeated Spears and Kendrick in the tiebreaker of the match’s first set. After getting her serve broken in the potential set-winning eighth game, Stubbs came back to lead the Kastles to a win in the tiebreaker, pumping her fist the whole way.

“I’ve been out here 20 years, [and] every year TeamTennis is a different experience,” Stubbs said. “For me at 38, what kind of fun do you have like this at that age?”

In the second event of the night Puchkova, who has been Washington’s fill-in when Williams isn’t playing, tweaked her right ankle in the second game of her singles set against Spears. She lost that game and four of the set’s next five games on her way to a 5-2 defeat, leaving the Kastles trailing 9-7.

“Truth be told, you can’t quit,” Jensen said. “We lost so many matches we should’ve won in a couple of other towns during the regular season. You’ve got to play all five [sets]. … We’ve grown so close, and that’s what makes this team and this format so special.”

During men’s doubles, the third event of the night, Paes and Oudsema won three consecutive games in the middle of the set against the Sportimes’ Kendrick and Jesse Witten on their way to a 5-3 victory, tying the match at 12-12.

It was the first of three consecutive won sets for the Kastles.

“We won as a team, so it’s incredible,” Puchkova said after the match.

The way Washington finished Friday night’s match - winning each of the last three sets - has been characteristic of its season. After starting the season 0-4, the Kastles won their next five matches, four of which came with Williams in the lineup. Jensen’s team then went on to lose its next three contests, all without the 11-time grand slam singles champion on the court.

Washington now takes a three-game streak into Sunday’s final.

“You start 0-4 and then you get on a roll when you get Serena, [but] in the end, it’s your core roster of players that pull it out for you,” owner Mark Ein said. “It’s beyond belief at the moment.”

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