Photos Michelle Simpson, WHMG TV
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The sweltering heat of the Washington, DC summer didn’t stop a few thousand spectators from coming out to see Venus Williams and the Washington Kastles season debut against the defending World Team Tennis champion Kansas City Explorer’s. This season ushered in the all new Kastles Stadium at the Wharf which is situated in Southwest Washington, DC on the waterfront, just minutes from Nationals Ballpark. The eclectic crowd of fans filled the stands waiting to get a glimpse of the players of the Washington Kastles. Most notably are sisters Venus and Serena Williams, who are both part of the team. During a press conference, Venus said of the new stadium, “It’s Fantastic! I can’t think of any other stadium on the water. I love that this is our first year here, it feels like we have a real home.” Some of the spectators for the stadium’s inaugural match included Valerie Jarrett, one of President Barack Obama’s senior advisors, and NBA Hall of Famer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Venus started the evening playing tennis with several kids from some local youth organizations. After volleying with several of the youth, she had a short question and answer session with the group of about 75 kids. One child asked Venus about her best moment. Venus replied, “Being a big sister, I love being able to take care of my sister.” Another child drew “ohhs” and “ahhs” from his peers as Venus answered his question. The child asked Venus, “How many matches have you won?” Venus answered, “That’s a good question; I think five hundred and something.” The stunned kids had bedazzled looks on their faces as it didn’t appear that any of them thought she had won “hundreds” of matches. Venus was asked by a child, “Who’s your favorite tennis player?” Venus responded with a sincere, “All of you guys.”
After a brief press conference, Venus prepared for her match. As she was welcomed into the stadium, the capacity crowd of 2600 greeted her with thunderous applause. For people that have never been to a World Team Tennis event before, they were in for some surprises. Unlike the major tennis tournaments where you hear scattered yelling, simultaneous applause and a serious voice calling out the score, the Kastles offer an electric atmosphere. Fans are energized by cheerleaders, a tennis ball mascot and a crowd warmer on stilts. In between points, the crowd is encouraged to show their enthusiasm and that’s done through music. For set point in the first match of the evening, the speakers blared Little Richard’s classic, “You Know You Make Me Wanna Shout.” During a challenge replay, they played the alternative hit from the 90’s “What’s Going On”, by 4 Non Blonds and music from national hip hop artist Wale, who is from the DC area.
The atmosphere reminded you of a Harlem Globetrotters game. The Kastles staff sought to keep it very interesting and entertaining. All of this while you still were able to watch excellent tennis matches. The diversity of the crowd was amazing; they all came together for this event. Some ate Italian ice, while others sipped wine and tea. Some people were dressed in suits while most were in shorts and tee shirts.
As for the match, the Kastles edged out an overtime victory against the Kansas City Explorers. In the first match Leander Paes and Bobby Reynolds of the Kastles beat the Explorer’s Alex Kuznetsov and Ricardo Mello by a score of 5-4. Venus took the court for the second match which was mixed doubles. She and Paes took a 5-3 win in that set. The Kastles were well on their way as Reynolds cruised by Kuznetsov in men’s singles, 5-1. Unfortunately for the Kastles, the Explorer’s came roaring back against Venus in women’s singles. Venus dropped her solo match 4-5 to Christina McHale. In women’s doubles, Madison Brengle and McHale of the Explorers defeated Williams and Rennae Stubbs 5-1 to tie up the match. In the overtime period which was women’s doubles, Venus and Rennae were the first to break the tie securing the 1-0 victory and the season opening victory for the Kastles.
Venus said of the event, “Team tennis is great…every game counts…the music in between…the fans being so close…it’s great.” When asked who she would like to play tennis against in the DC area she didn’t say, President Obama, she said Kastles team owner and millionaire business man, Mark Ein.
Serena Williams will play on July 7, 2011 at Kastles Stadium at the Wharf. For the Kastles complete schedule, click here.
Event Photos Click Here.