photography by Max Cook
In the press conference prior to last night’s World TeamTennis match between the Washington Kastles and the New York Sportimes, John McEnroe was calm, cool, and collected. Some might say he even seemed bored. The fifty year old retired tennis legend, once ranked number one in the world and known for his fiery temper, sat emotionless as he answered questions he’s no doubt heard countless times before. When asked whether he now considers himself an entertainer or an athlete he said, “A little bit of both. I think people come here expecting me to get angry and yell at someone.” You think? The Kastles banked on it and played a video compilation of vintage McEnroe outbursts (“You have GOT to be kidding me!”) on the big screen no less than ten times throughout the evening. Would McEnroe remain emotionless or would the crowd see the explosion they were hoping for? With the Sportimes leading the Kastles by two games in the Eastern Conference, there was a lot riding on the line for the night’s match.Things got off to an ugly start for the Kastles with a tough fought women’s singles set between Olga Puchkova and Abigail Spears. Despite Puchkova’s efforts in the 28 minute battle, more points fell in Spears’ favor resulting in a 3-5 loss for the Kastles.
Puchkova was able to avenge her loss in women’s doubles with the help of Rennae Stubbs, a career winner of 59 doubles titles. The Russian and Australian duo, which has continued to improve their doubles play together, comfortably beat Sportimes’ Fusano and Spears 5-2 in a battle at the net.
Up next in the men’s doubles set it was finally time for McEnroe to show the crowd what he was made of as he and Robert Kendrick took on Scott Oudsema and Leander Paes who is currently ranked sixth in the world in doubles. While McEnroe may look like your dad with his gray hair and pasty white legs, he’s got decades of tennis wisdom in his head, and as in many sports, brains can often win over brawn. That’s not to say that McEnroe doesn’t still have an amazing serve and the ability to hustle when he needs to. He also has the eyes of a hawk and was able to know exactly when to call for an instant replay on calls made against him.
In what was the longest set of the hot and humid night, the teams rallied neck and neck in some truly exciting tennis. Leander Paes took advantage of an easy point by pounding it over the net, accidentally nailing Kendrick in the process, a move that caused McEnroe’s blood to boil and for Paes to get a little Johnny Mac face time.
After a few minutes the commotion subsided and tempers returned to normal, or so we thought. On Kendrick’s next chance to serve to Scott Oudsema, he instead chose to hit the ball directly at Leander Paes with all of his might, hitting him in the thigh. After this unsportsmanlike move, both benches cleared and even little Puchkova got into the action giving Kendrick an earful.
A point was taken away from the Kastles due to some foul language from “Puchy”, who immediately defended herself by saying, “Are you kidding me? He called me at bitch!” What seemed like an episode of Jerry Springer was really two incredibly competitive teams knowing that this was not an ATP match but rather a WTT match, and as a spectator it made for some good entertainment. Soon everyone settled down, but unfortunately the Kastles lost the close set by a score of 4-5.
At halftime, the mood at the stadium was lifted as fans enjoyed a John McEnroe impersonation contest. Three audience members were given a chance to do their best McEnroe which basically consisted of wearing 70′s style afro wigs, yelling classic McEnroe lines, and throwing their rackets on the ground. John was a good sport and congratulated the winner but only after rolling his eyes at what is sure to be more of an annoyance for him.
Next up was the men’s singles set between McEnroe and 23 year old powerhouse, Scott “Boom Boom” Oudsema. Last year, Oudsema made McEnroe look like the old man that he is by crushing him with his powerful serve.
Last night, however, Oudsema tried to beat Big Mac at his own game by moving him around on the court. Suffice it to say, with McEnroe’s intense concentration and years of experience, he easily beat a kid who is half his age and twice his size. Oh he’s still got it alright. McEnroe wins, 5-2.
The Kastles were down but not out. Rennae Stubbs and Leander Paes took the court, fired up and ready to show everyone why they’re star doubles players. Stubbs, who appears to be stronger than most men I know, was able to handle the powerful serves coming from Robert Kendrick while Paes had some amazing moves at the net. The Kastles made it look easy, beat the Sportimes 5-2, tied the match 19-19, and sent things into a “Supertiebreaker”.
In a Supertiebreaker, the last set format to be played in regulation continues, in this case mixed doubles. The first team to reach seven points wins the match. Fans were on the edge of their seats and cheering for Stubbs and Paes who had momentum in their favor, but in the end the Sportimes, despite a double fault, were victorious by beating the Kastles by a mere two points, 7-5. What a great World TeamTennis match that fans are sure to remember.
While the Kastles are now three games behind the Sportimes in the Eastern Conference, there are still four matches left and anything could happen. If Murphy Jensen’s team continues their level of play and “refuses to lose”, they may very well end up playing the Sportimes again in the conference finals and possibly be in the WTT Championship Finals played here in DC on July 26th. The next home game is next Tuesday against the defending WTT chamions, the New York Buzz.
Young fans who “refuse to lose”
Final Score – Kastles 19, Sportimes 20