By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The Washington Kastles won't make their debut for another five months, but Washington's new World TeamTennis franchise scored a huge victory yesterday in acquiring Serena Williams in the league's draft of marquee players.
That means Williams, 26, who has won eight Grand Slam singles titles, will compete in at least one home match for the Kastles during the league's three-week season, which runs July 3-23.
Kastles owner Mark Ein, a Washington area native, called Williams an ideal fit for a team that he hopes will spark interest in the sport throughout the city, particularly among youngsters.
Serena and her older sister, Venus, started playing tennis on the public courts of Compton, Calif., when they were in elementary school. Coached by their father, Richard Williams, they went on to capture 14 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
"For me, this whole endeavor really is about exposing tennis to more people in the community and making it more accessible in the community," said Ein, 43, who was captain of his high school tennis team at Bethesda-Chevy Chase. "Tennis has been a great sport in my life, and I think it can be great in other people's lives. I don't think there is any better example of what tennis can do to improve someone's life than Serena and Venus."
A site for the Kastles' home matches hasn't been announced, but Ein said he's working hard to put the finishing touches on a deal for a location in the District.
Serena Williams has never played a competitive match in Washington, though she and Venus faced off in a December 2005 exhibition that benefited the Ronald McDonald House and the city's Southeast Tennis and Education Foundation, which was launched by Cora Masters Barry, a friend of the Williams family. They also have a sister who attended Howard and lives in Washington.
It won't be clear until later this month which home match will feature Serena Williams in the lineup. The Kastles' full schedule, as well as that of the entire 11-team league, is expected to be released late next week.
World TeamTennis, which was co-founded by Billie Jean King 33 years ago, features tennis pros from all over the world. Yesterday, each took turns picking one marquee player to build its marketing efforts around. The rest of the four-player rosters will be filled out April 1 in Miami.
Venus Williams will return for her third consecutive season with the Philadelphia Freedoms. Lindsay Davenport was picked first in the draft, by the Newport Beach Breakers. Andy Roddick was picked second, by the St. Louis Aces. Other notables drafted include Martina Navratilova (Boston Lobsters) and the world's top doubles players, Bob and Mike Bryan (Kansas City Explorers).
Serena Williams played the 2000 season with World TeamTennis and returned to the league in 2007, but was unable to compete because of injury. She opened the 2008 season looking fit, but lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to third-seeded Jelena Jankovic in straight sets. She withdrew from three tournaments this month, in Paris; Antwerp, Belgium; (following gum surgery) and Doha, Qatar, citing a scheduling conflict.