With just one day left of play in the World TeamTennis regular season coming to a close, the top 4 teams destined for the coming Playoff that follow are already decided, with New York Empire pipping the post ahead of Washington Kastles.
Even though we were out of it, we still fought our butts off. Never for a second did we throw in the towel and I’m really proud of everyone for that. Tonight we were like, ‘we have nothing to lose, they have a lot to lose’ and misery kind of loves company, so we were out to compete. Asia Muhammad, Vegas Rollers
New York Empire scored a significant win over Orange County Breakers, 21-19, that carried them to the final slot, while the wheels fell off Washington Kastles in the 5th set, and their Playoff hopes evaporated in the process.
Empire coach Luke Jensen pulled off a blockbuster acquisition right before the trade deadline on Sunday evening, scooping up Grand Slam champions CoCo Vandeweghe and Nicole Melichar from the San Diego Aviators in exchange for Sabine Lisicki and Kveta Peschke, as well as financial considerations.
Vandeweghe made an impact across the board on Wednesday, competing in 3 sets and winning 13 crucial games for her new squad.
Partnered up with fellow 2018 US Open doubles champion Jack Sock, Vandeweghe and the big-serving right-hander defeated Steve Johnson & Jennifer Brady 5-3 to give New York an early lead.
Building a quick 3-1 lead in the next set, Vandeweghe looked to be continuing her momentum in singles against Brady before she faced some difficulties that forced Jensen to sub in Melichar in the middle of the 6th game.
Brady capitalised on the change of opponent and won 10 of 12 points over Melichar to secure a 5-3 win.
Johnson & Sock were aggressive in their singles with big serves and forehands, but it was Johnson who was able to utilise his knifing backhand slice to put Sock into uncomfortable positions on the court, leading to errors.
An early break in the 3rd game and Johnson eventually prevailed 5-3 to give Orange County a 13-11 lead heading into half-time.
On-site alternate Hailey Baptiste was called into action for the women’s doubles, but Vandeweghe was able to persevere through her earlier troubles to return to play.
The former Aviators duo of Melichar & Vandeweghe demonstrated exactly why Jensen snatched them up for a late-season playoff push, with the duo beating Brady and World No 7 Gaby Dabrowski, 5-2, to give the Empire the slight 16-15 advantage heading into the men’s doubles.
New York’s Sock & Neal Skupski played a straightforward set with Johnson & Austin Krajicek, as neither team had any break point opportunities through 8 games and needed a tiebreak to resolve the issue.
Orange County took the breaker and forced a Supertiebreaker for a chance to win the whole match, but Sock & Skupski played flawlessly to win it 5-0 and clinch the Empire’s 7th win of the season.
“I claim both coasts as I was born in New York and, of course, grew up in Southern California,” Vandeweghe said. “My Uncle Kiki [former New York Knicks player and current NBA front-office executive] sent out a mass email down in his bubble in Orlando saying, ‘Coco’s playing for New York now!”
Vegas Rollers scupper Washington Kastles chances
The Washington Kastles went into Wednesday’s match with the Vegas Rollers playing to stay alive for a Playoff berth, and were up 15-14 heading into the mixed doubles after Venus Williams & Bernarda Pera gave them a 5-2 win in women’s doubles, but then things unravelled.
Vegas, having lost 5 straight matches were already eliminated, and simply playing for pride in their final outing of the season, and they went out with a bang.
Vegas’ mixed doubles team of Asia Muhammad & Mike Bryan dominated Venus Williams & Marcelo Arevalo in the final set, 5-1, to lead the Rollers to a come-from-behind 19-16 victory over Washington.
“Even though we were out of it, we still fought our butts off,” Muhammad said. “Never for a second did we throw in the towel and I’m really proud of everyone for that.
“Tonight we were like, ‘we have nothing to lose, they have a lot to lose’ and misery kind of loves company so we were out to compete.”
Injury-ravaged Rollers won 3 of the 5 sets and have been missing Muhammad for much of the season due to a shoulder injury but when replacement Ajla Tomljanović also went on the injury list, Muhammad returned to the lineup and came up big to help Vegas end its season on a winning note.
“It was great to have Asia get back in and actually win it for us because I felt really bad for her,” Rollers coach Tim Blenkiron said. “She got injured and then we gave her a couple of days to rest to try again.
“It was clear that the arm wasn’t gonna be ready and then we brought Ajla in. It was a tricky season, but the team morale was incredible.”
Bernarda Pera opened the match impressively for Washington, with a 5-2 domination of Puig, reeling off 3 straight games en route to winning the set.
Things appeared to be headed to another tiebreak between Sam Querrey and Tommy Paul in the men’s singles, but when Querrey found his rhythm and took a 4-3 lead, Paul fell apart and lost his final serve to love, including a double-fault on his last delivery.
In a surprising twist just after a ceremonial point in men’s doubles, Blenkiron replaced Bob Bryan with Querrey, who joined Mike Bryan for the set and only later was it revealed that Bob had strained his quad.
Querey’s momentum carried over, and he brought plenty of energy to help the Rollers take the set, 5-2, over Nick Monroe & Marcelo Arevalo, taking them to a 12-10 lead at the half.
Williams & Pera proved to be too much for Puig & Muhammad, as the Kastles pair opened a 4-0 lead in the women’s doubles and breezed to a 5-2 set-victory to give Washington a 15-14 overall lead heading into the final set.
“I needed that [women’s] doubles [set], I’m glad we scraped out a couple of games in the doubles, just to help the team going into the last match,” Muhammad said. “I just needed that to get loose and to see the ball again.
“To just be able to play today, and just be healthy, was just really, really nice.”
With the loss, the Kastles are eliminated from playoff contention, handing the New York Empire, who lost in last year’s championship match in Las Vegas, the No 4 seed in the Playoffs.
Philadelphia Freedoms top Chicago Smash
The Freedoms locked up the No 1 seeding in the Playoffs with a 22-21 nail-biter of a win over the Chicago Smash that went into a 7-6 tiebreaker won by Taylor Fritz over Brandon Nakashima.
The two top Playoff teams put on a match worthy of the postseason, playing the first 5 sets at an even 21-21 to force Fritz and Nakashima back on the court.
Fritz once again delivered, lifting his team to victory in a match that was decided in a Supertiebreaker.
“Clinching the No 1 seed is very important because it allows up to set the order of play in the Playoffs,” said Philly’s coach Craig Kardon.
Fritz took the court with his team trailing, thanks to an inspiring effort by Chicago’s Eugenie Bouchard & Bethanie Mattek-Sands who defeated Sofia Kenin & Taylor Townsend 5-3 in the women’s doubles.
The Smash rallied from an early deficit to take a 17-16 lead heading into the final set.
Fritz put on a dominating service game to take a 4-3 lead and a chance to break Brandon Nakashima and close out the match, but the 18-year old delivered some solid serves combined with a powerful forehand to even the set at 4-4 and force a tiebreak.
In the breaker, Fritz took control early and earned the 5-1 win to win the set 5-4 and even the overall score at 21-21 forcing the supertiebreaker in which Nakashima served first.
Fritz quickly broke to take a 1-0 lead but Nakashima came right back and seemed to take control going up 6-4 in a race to 7 points.
With Fritz holding the final 3 serves, he got a big break winning the next point on a net cord and won the next two to secure the match.
“Going into the 5th set down one I wanted the match,” said Fritz following the match. “This is why I want to play in the final set. Brandon [Nakashima] played well and fought but I was able to pull it out. I barely got it.”
Kardon added: “The super tiebreak is just a longer version of the 5 out of 9 tiebreak. Chicago won the toss and elected to serve first, betting they would be ahead.
“It would turn out well for us because Taylor held the final 3 serves and he played the pressure points very well today.”
The action had started with men’s doubles and it looked as though the combination of Nakashima & Rajeev Ram would take control early, but despite Fritz & Fabrice Martin facing multiple break points, they both held on, eventually going to a tiebreak.
In the breaker, Philadelphia dropped the first point before rallying to win 5 of the next 6 points to close it out 5-2 and win the set 5-4.
Kenin followed with a 5-3 win in the women’s singles over Sloane Stephens to increase Philadelphia’s lead to 10-7 heading into the mixed, which was won 5-3 by Chicago’s Mattek-Sands & Ram.
The Freedoms are 11-2 on the season and have a two-game lead in the standings before their final regular-season matchup.
Philadelphia Freedoms 22, Chicago Smash 21 (STB)
- Men’s Doubles – Taylor Fritz\Fabrice Martin (Freedoms) def. Rajeev Ram\Brandon Nakashima (Smash), 5-4
- Women’s Singles – Sofia Kenin (Freedoms) def. Sloane Stephens (Smash), 5-3
- Mixed Doubles – Ram\Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Smash) def. Martin\Taylor Townsend (Freedoms), 5-3
- Women’s Doubles – Mattek-Sands\Eugenie Bouchard (Smash) def. Townsend\Kenin (Freedoms), 5-3
- Men’s Singles – Fritz (Freedoms) def. Nakashima (Smash), 5-4
- Supertiebreaker – Men’s Singles – Fritz (Freedoms) def. Nakashima (Smash), 1-0 (7-6 tiebreaker)
New York Empire 21, Orange County Breakers 19
- Mixed Doubles – Jack Sock\Coco Vandeweghe (Empire) def. Steve Johnson\Jennifer Brady (Breakers), 5-3
- Women’s Singles – Brady (Breakers) def. Nicole Melichar (Empire), 5-3
- Men’s Singles – Johnson (Breakers) def. Sock (Empire), 5-3
- Women’s Doubles – Vandeweghe\Melichar (Empire) def. Gabriela Dabrowski\Brady (Breakers), 5-2
- Men’s Doubles – Sock\Neal Skupski (Empire) def. Johnson\Austin Krajicek (Breakers), 5-4
Vegas Rollers 19, Washington Kastles 16
- Women’s Singles – Bernarda Pera (Kastles) def. Monica Puig (Rollers), 5-2
- Men’s Singles – Sam Querrey (Rollers) def. Tommy Paul (Kastles), 5-3
- Men’s Doubles – Querrey\Mike Bryan (Rollers) def. Nick Monroe\Marcelo Arevalo (Kastles), 5-2
- Women’s Doubles – Pera\Venus Williams (Kastles) def. Puig\Asia Muhammad (Rollers), 5-2
- Mixed Doubles – M. Bryan\Muhammad (Rollers) def. Arevalo\Williams (Kastles), 5-1
(STB) – Supertiebreaker