With first lady Michelle Obama looking on from above a baseline at Kastles Stadium, the Washington Kastles opened their World Team Tennis season with a 23-15 victory over the New York Sportimes on Monday night, extending their league-record winning streak to 33 matches.
Obama wasn’t the only prominent on-looker. Kastles star Venus Williams, relegated to the role of cheerleader by an injury, watched as her star substitue, Martina Hingis, helped the two-time defending league champions to two of their four set wins.
Hingis was playing in her first match with the Kastles after spending two seasons with the Sportimes. She was WTT’s female MVP with New York in 2012.
“It feels great, and obviously winning the match helps,” Hingis said. “I’ve been trying to get on this team for like five years because of how much fun it is to play for the Kastles.”
Kevin Anderson also made his Kastles debut, contributing to a 5-2 win in men’s singles in the evening’s opening set. Anderson’s big serve continually handcuffed his opponent Jesse Witten and sent cheerleaders stationed behind the baselines running for cover (on two occasions, they weren’t fast enough).
Then it was Hingis’s turn, and New York’s Anna-Lena Groenfeld sent her reeling early with a first-game win.
But Groenfeld lost range with her serve and double-faulted twice to let Hingis off the hook. The five-time Grand Slam singles champion took advantage and never looked back on her way to a 5-1 victory.
Hingis was also part of the most exciting set of the night, teaming with Kastles captain Leander Paes to earn a come-from-behind win in mixed doubles. Struggling with chemistry early, she and Paes fell behind 3-1 before storming back to take a 4-3 lead and eventually a 5-4 tiebreak win.
After the Sportimes closed the gap with a 5-3 win in women’s doubles, Paes and fan favorite Bobby Reynolds sealed the match victory with a 5-3 win in men’s doubles.
It wasn’t easy, as Paes and Reynolds exchanged points, errors and aces with the New York pairing of Witten and Robert Kendrick. Tensions rose as the sent went on, with the family-friendly Reynolds nearly driven to expletives, yelling “Gosh!” after one particularly frustrating lost point.
But on the night the Kastles received their 2012 championship rings, it was fitting that Reynolds, last year’s men’s league MVP, and the captain Paes were on court to seal the streak-extending win.
“It’s beyond belief,” Kastles Coach Murphy Jensen said of the streak. “The story runs so deep for all of us. There’s so many people that aren’t even here that have been part of these 33 wins . . . we even had replacements during the Olympics at one point and continued to win! Nobody wanted to be that guy.”
The Kastles will try to run their win streak to 34 on Tuesday night when the Boston Lobsters visit.