Washington Kastles move indoors to Smith Center for 2014


Martina Hingis returns as a key member of the Washington Kastles in 2014. (Katherine Frey/The Washikngton Post)

The Washington Kastles’ move indoors to the Smith Center makes owner Mark Ein nostalgic. Ein used to be a ball boy for tennis tournaments there.

It also makes him practical. More seating, air-conditioning and the promise of predictability all made a change from The Wharf to an indoor venue appealing. A history of hosting tennis tournaments was a bonus.

“I think people will appreciate the comfort and amenities of being indoors,” Ein said. “I think sometimes people have a romantic notion of being outside in the summer, but the reality is it’s hot and it often rains. We’ve been lucky not to have any complete rainouts but you often have delays and I think people are going to really embrace the comfort of the amenities and the predictability.

“It’s also nice to come full circle and go back to where there’s a lot of tennis history in town.”

The Kastles will play at least two matches a week at the Smith Center, from Wednesday’s match against the Boston Lobsters to their home finale on July 22. The team features International Tennis Hall of Famer Martina Hingis and 2013 U.S. Open men’s doubles champion Leander Paes. Former world No. 1 Venus Williams will play in the Smith Center on July 16 when the Kastles host the Texas Wild.

The arena hosted the Volvo Classic men’s event from 1976 to 1980 and the Virginia Slims of Washington women’s event from the late ’70s to 1990. Arthur Ashe, Chris Evert, John McEnroe and World TeamTennis co-founder Billie Jean King were some of the stars to have played in the Smith Center for those tournaments.

“I’ve heard about it a lot since we made the announcement,” George Washington Athletic Director Patrick Nero said. “We have a very loyal fanbase, and a lot of local Foggy Bottom folks have said to me, ‘Oh, we remember the Virginia Slims, and it was wonderful.’ ”

With the Smith Center having recently undergone a $43 million renovation, the Kastles can take advantage of premium seating options, and because there’s more seating capacity (3,200) than their last venue, tickets will also be available for as low as $8, the cheapest they’ve ever been for a Kastles match.

Ein said the lower bowl has been reconfigured to better suit tennis, and fans were moved closer to the court. Nero said converting the arena’s floor to a tennis court was painless. Since July is a slow time in the GW athletic calender, the move was beneficial for both parties.

“Nowadays with any of these type of venues, there are experts that can come out and just lay down a court,” Nero said. “They’ve done basketball on ships, so putting a tennis court down on a basketball court is not a difficult thing.”

The Kastles adorned Foggy Bottom with logos and pictures of their players. The Smith Center has a Kastles banner across it, and the Foggy Bottom Metro stop advertises the matches.

“We’ve built a really big following over the last six years, partially because of the team’s success, but I also think when people come to matches, they just enjoy themselves,” Ein said. “They come back and back and back year in and year out. I think this is just another experience. It’ll help build the community because it’s a different part of town.”

Note: The Kastles (2-0) pulled away from the Texas Wild (2-1) for a 24-15 win in Dallas to extend their winning streak to 14 matches.

Isabelle Khurshudyan covers local college sports for The Washington Post. You can email her at Isabelle.Khurshudyan@washpost.com and follow her on Twitter @ikhurshudyan.
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