New York Empire defeated Chicago Smash, 21-20 in a supertiebreaker, to win the 2020 World Team Tennis season in a nail-biting finish at West Virginia’s Greenbrier Resort on Sunday, and hoist the King Trophy for the first time.
We had great chemistry from the word go, Nicole [Melichar] and I. She picked me up when I was down, and I did the same with her. We kept our momentum going in the playoffs and kept fighting for it. Coco Vandeweghe, New York Empire
It was a thrilling conclusion the 45th WTT season, which went down to the wire, with former World No 9 CoCo Vandeweghe demonstrating her impressive form with two wins from three outings in the final, as well as delivering the winning championship point.
After teaming with Jack Sock to win the mixed doubles set, Vandeweghe fell short in her singles set against Sloane Stephens before returning to the court with Nicole Melichar for the women’s doubles set.
She hit a return winner off Stephens’ serve which just clipped the line, handing the Empire the 21-20 victory over the Smash, and sending the team into a frenzy.
“We had great chemistry from the word go, Nicole and I,” Vandeweghe said. “She picked me up when I was down, and I did the same with her.
“We kept our momentum going in the playoffs and kept fighting for it.”
Vandeweghe played the women’s singles set in place of the injured Kim Clijsters who, until an abdominal problem, had been dominant at The Greenbrier in winning 6 of her 7 singles sets.
“To see the best players going after it, toe-to-toe, it’s wonderful,” said Empire coach Luke Jensen, whose squad finished runner-up in 2019. “Last year, we were one swing away, and this time the swing went in.
“We’re very fortunate to be in this position.”
New York’s men’s doubles team of Jack Sock & Neal Skupski was aggressive from the outset, and while Chicago took the first point, including an opening-serve ace from Brandon Nakashima, the Empire duo reeled off 3 consecutive points.
The Smash’s Rajeev Ram struggled with his first serve, and New York was able to break him for a 2-1 lead, followed by a love-service by Skupski.
Nakashima brought Chicago within 3-2 before Sock posted a love-service. Facing set point, Ram & Joe Salisbury, produced a double fault to end the 5-2 set.
In the mixed doubles, Sock subbed in for Skupski , teaming up with CoCo Vandeweghe to face Ram & Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the WTT’s 2020 Female Most Valuable Player.
The Empire acquired Vandeweghe & Nicole Melichar from San Diego at the trade deadline, and the Sock-Vandeweghe duo meshed quickly and was 3-0 in wins entering Sunday.
The teams held serve through 8 points, including an ace from Ram to cap a love-service to keep the set level at 3-3 and force a 9-point tiebreak.
After New York capitalised on its serves for a 4-2 advantage, Chicago pulled within 4-3 before the Empire called a GEICO Timeout. After the break, Sock nailed the winner to cap the game to push New York’s lead to 10-6.
Sock & Nakashima, playing on the eve of his 19th birthday, squared off for the third time this season in the men’s singles match and 20 minutes later, Nakashima had broken Sock’s serve twice to take a 4-0 lead.
Looking for his first 5-love sweep of the season, Nakashima finished off Sock as Chicago took an 11-10 lead.
“It’s been a blast,” said Sock, who was the men’s MVP. “With CoCo, we put together some great matches, some great sets. You’re playing for your team, playing your heart out.
“I thought I hurt us there for a bit today, so I’m glad the girls picked us up there at the end and were able to close it out for an incredible comeback.”
With Kim Clijsters still sidelined, Vandeweghe returned to the court to face Stephens in women’s singles.
Vandeweghe held serve for the first point to tie the match. butStephens, the 2017 US Open champion, then reeled off 3 consecutive points and marched on to cap the set, 5-3, giving The Smash a 16-13 lead.
With the King Trophy on the line, Chicago’s women’s doubles pair, Mattek-Sands & Genie Bouchard, faced Vandeweghe & Melichar, who had won a previous matchup, 5-1, when they were with the Aviators.
Tied at 2-2, Bouchard served at deciding point and capitalised to put the Smash up , but the Empire broke Mattek-Sands’ serve to lurch ahead 4-3.
When Melichar double-faulted at 40-love, the Smash rallied with 3 consecutive points to force match point and Bouchard delivered the return winner for a set tiebreak.
In the 9-point breaker, New York took 4 of the first 5 points and although Chicago rallied to level at 4-4, Melichar served a winner to force Extended Play.
Empire’s Vandeweghe held serve and they needed to break Mattek-Sands, which they did, tying the match at 20-20 and forcing the championship to come down to a 13-point Supertiebreaker.
The chase to 7 points began with Chicago subbing in Stephens for Bouchard and while New York went ahead 2-0, the Smash evened the score.
The Empire split Melichar’s serves, and then Mattek-Sands pushed Chicago ahead 5-3 but Vandeweghe & Melichar managed to even the score at 5-all and it came down to 3 serves by Stephens.
New York eased ahead 6-5, and Stephens aced her next serve to set up a season-ending point but when she served to Vandeweghe, the return was ruled in on the backline and the Empire celebrated their first WTT championship with a $500,000 winners’ check.
“It was so much fun to have it on my racket to control the situation,” Vandeweghe said. “Luckily, I controlled it in the right way.
“I’m really pumped. It absolutely accentuated what World TeamTennis is – the team vibe, team energy, people picking up each other when they’re down. I had so much fun out there.”
“I didn’t want to tell CoCo to go line, because I wanted her to feel her instincts, but I felt that Bethanie was going to try to cross, and the second [Vandeweghe] hit it and I didn’t hear an ‘out’ call, I was thrilled,” Melichar said.
“But then … the fact [the Smash] were challenging it, all of a sudden, we were like, ‘Oh no, oh no, oh no.’ It was just pure joy after that. It was incredible.”
Added Chicago coach Kamau Murray: “I’m proud of this team for its fight all year. Next year, I think we have a good core, and if we bring most of them back, we’ll be here again.”
New York Empire def. CHICAGO SMASH 21-20 (7-6 STB)
- Men’s Doubles – Jack Sock\Neal Skupski (Empire) def. Rajeev Ram\Brandon Nakashima (Smash) 5-2
- Mixed Doubles – Jack Sock\CoCo Vandeweghe (Empire) def. Rajeev Ram\Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Smash) 5-4
- Men’s Singles – Brandon Nakashima (Smash) def. Jack Sock (Empire) 5-0
- Women’s Singles – Sloane Stephens (Smash) def. CoCo Vandeweghe (Empire) 5-3
- Women’s Doubles – CoCo Vandeweghe\Nicole Melichar (Empire) def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands\Sloane Stephens (Smash) 5-4
- Extended Play – Women’s Doubles – CoCo Vandeweghe\Nicole Melichar (Empire) def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands\Sloane Stephens (Smash) 2-0
- Supertiebreaker – Women’s Doubles – CoCo Vandeweghe\Nicole Melichar (Empire) def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands\Sloane Stephens (Smash) 1-0 (7-6)
After five months of a pandemic, 4 months of do-or-die planning, and 3 weeks of play, the 9 teams in the 45th season of World TeamTennis had played 66 matches and 330 sets.
WTT CEO Carlos Silva is relieved to have concluded the competition under such distressing conditions.
“Let’s face it, in this COVID era there have been so many efforts, from the Balkans to Berlin and Florida and Georgia, to play tennis,” he told Inside Tennis. “But today, for Americans, there was a certain realness, an intensity, even though there were only about 500 fans in the seats.
“World TeamTennis is great. If anyone wants to challenge me on that, if someone wants to say it’s an exhibition, they can come talk to me, because that’s pro tennis at the highest level.
“I really hope the ATP and WTA understand. And if they don’t, they don’t understand tennis.
“Today two teams that represent America’s first and third biggest cities, that have a combined population of over 27 million, were featured from a little West Virginia mountain village with a population of 2,398.
“How incredible is that? Even the small number of fans on hand were really cheering – it felt like thousands. It was like I was at the US Open.”
Normally played around the country, WTT may re-think for next year following the success of this year’s event at a single venue.
“The good thing about this year is that it got us thinking,” added Silva. “We may do things differently, whether it’s having the season on one site or having a kind of hybrid.”
Either way, WTT offers great competition with innovation based on tradition, which the teams and the fans just love.