Kastles ecstatic over third straight WTT title
Forget those streaking Los Angeles Lakers comparisons, which dominated the early part of the Kastles season. That specific association between an NBA power and Washington's World Team Tennis franchise, a stretchy one for some.
However, after Sunday night's WTT championship, we can confidently say this: like the Lakers, the Kastles are indeed a dynasty.
Once again, Martina Hingis proved valuable in all three of her disciplines. Once again, stalwarts Bobby Reynolds and Leander Paes produced in pressure-packed moments. Once again - and for the third straight time - the Kastles are champions, claiming their fourth title in five years with a 25-12 win over the Springfield Lasers at Kastles Stadium at The Wharf.
Over the last three championship winning campaigns, the Kastles (14-2) posted a staggering 46-2 record. Their four titles since 2009 have all been with coach Murphy Jensen.
"Just a few years ago were we saying, 'I wonder what we can do here.' said the excited Jensen, who shouted strategy and encouragement throughout the match. "And look at us now. Amazing!"
Paes and Reynolds, who won the opening set of men's singles after a lengthy rain delay, are the only players to participate in every year of the 3-peat while Hingis conquered in her first season with Washington.
Named the WTT's female MVP for the second straight year, Hingis had a winning part in the second, fourth and fifth sets. Immediately after dominating Alisa Kleybanova 5-2 in singles, the former world No.1 paired with Paes in mixed doubles, hammering Andy Roddick and Kleybanova 5-4 to close out the match.
Earlier, Hingis, who is returning to play five doubles events on the WTA Tour including the U.S. Open, and Anastasia Rodionova rallied for a 4-3 double's win over Kleybanova and Vania King.
"She is so smart the way she plays," said the fabled King, who founded the WTT. "She uses her mind better than anybody that has played the sport."
The Kastles' two losses during this year's three-week sprint came without Hingis, but not before Washington won its 34th consecutive match. The franchise celebrates the run as surpassing the 1971-72 Lakers' mark of 33 straight victories for the longest winning streak ever by a major U.S. pro sports team.
"It was pressure coming in, the first match especially with the winning streak going," Hingis said. "Now at the end, all the effort that we put together, all the dedication they have, it's a great team."
The match started at 7:03 p.m. - or 2 hours and three minutes later than expected as multiple rainstorms hitting the Southwest Waterfront. That didn't damper the enthusiasm from the red towel waving sold out crowd -- and clearly not the championship-minded Kastles.
Jensen rehashed his motivation speech at the team's dinner on Saturday night. "I said to these guys, 'let's absolutely bring this thing in on empty. If you have a shot to hit, you better hit it. If you have a serve, you better hit it.'"
The final set included two former No. 1 ranked players in Hingis and Roddick. Like the other sets, it went the way of the Kastles.
Though now retired from the ATP Tour, Roddick still possesses a big serve, though it and his overall game showed rust. "I feel like Martina is judging me over there," Roddick cracked as he prepared to serve trailing 3-2.
The Kastles broke his serve, but the Lasers did the same and won the following game, tying the match at 4-4.
Washington's tandem stayed focused. On match point, Paes smacked Kleybanova's serve down the line, then powered Hingis high in the air as the two celebrated.
On game point in singles, Hingis' drop shot sucked in Kleybanova to the net, leaving the far court wide open for a subsequent backhanded volley for the Kastles star.
Hingis joined Rodionova for women's doubles in the second set, which included the Lasers best chances at claiming a set. Tied at 1-1, Kleybanova tripped at the net going for a volley on game point, crashing to the court, yet still managing to get the ball over the net, putting the Lasers up 2-1. Trailing 2-3, the Kastles saved two break points, the first via a Hingis swatting volley, and then broke the Lasers to go up 4-3.
Hingis easily closed out the set on her serve as Rodionova countered Kleybanova's good fortune with a miss-hit volley that inadvertently went sharp left but in.
Reynolds took final four games of the opening set, dispatching Rik De Voest 5-1.
Now a partial owner in WTT, Roddick made a brief appearance in the third set, but he couldn't slow down Reynolds and Paes from a 5-2 men's doubles victory.
Whether on the bench or on the court, Roddick showed his competitive drive throughout, clapping for teammates and chirping at officials over questionable calls. When the match ended, his words went from player to financial investor.
"It would be great if we had 16 teams like them," Roddick said of the Kastles organization. "They deserve the success they get. They've put a lot into it."
Washington's final loss of the season came on July 11 against the Lasers, who took advantage of Hingis' absence for a 22-15 victory. Six days later and with the five-time Grand Slam champion, revenge exacted as Washington knocked off the Roddick-less Lasers 21-15.
"We practice for perfect," Jensen said. " We play and train and rest - we do everything for perfect. ...They were perfect tonight."
Those prior matches against Springfield had some expecting a tighter final. The Kastles ruined those thoughts, once again.