The two top seeds failed to make the final of World TeamTennis on Saturday at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia after the New York Empire upset favourites Philadelphia Freedoms, 22-18, and Chicago Smash took out Orlando Storm, 24-13.
It’s absolutely unbelievable and we have such a great team vibe. The coach’s position here is don’t screw it up because the players know how to practice and they know their games. It’s important that I empower them, win or lose, to have fun.” Luke Jensen, New York Empire coach
New York and Philadelphia have had a rivalry over the past few years and, for the second consecutive season, the No 4-seeded Empire defeated the top-seeded Freedoms to advance.
“We played the most dominant team over the past couple of years,” Empire coach Luke Jensen said. “They are a great team with a great vibe, and we are extremely grateful to be in the position of playing for it all.
“They defeated us a couple of days ago and I said to them just have fun. Doing that puts the pressure on them and takes the pressure off of us.”
At the midway mark, Jensen bet on Jack Sock & Coco Vandeweghe to deliver and they responded with a huge 5-1 Mixed Doubles set to extend an early lead to 14-9 that proved insurmountable for the Freedoms to overcome.
Things had looked bright for Philadelphia at start when they took an early 2-0 lead in the men’s doubles by breaking Sock’s serve and Fabrice Martin served next, looking to push the lead to 3-0 and give Philadelphia some early breathing room.
New York, however, found their rhythm and won 5 of the next 6 games to take the set 5-3.
The women’s singles featured Sofia Kenin and Vandeweghe in a rematch of Thursday night’s contest.
Kenin jumped out to an early 3-1 lead before Vandeweghe rallied again to force the tiebreak, which this time went to Freedoms and and sliced the New York lead to just 9-8 heading into the mixed.
Fabrice Martin & Taylor Townsend have been stalwarts for Philadelphia but Saturday belonged to New York as Sock & Vandeweghe were too much for the Freedoms winning 5-1 with Philadelphia’s only game coming when Kardon substituted Fritz in for Martin.
Sock & Vandeweghe started fast, breaking Martin’s serve and Sock holding for the early 2-0 set lead.
“I have played with Jack [Sock] a couple of times in Hopman Cup and we had some good success, so we were ready to battle,” said Vandeweghe. “As long as he has my back, I have his.”
“Sock & Vandeweghe played really well today,” said Freedoms’ coach Craig Kardon. “I probably waited too late for substituting Fabrice, but I wanted to see if he could hold serve or getting a couple of return shots.
“He has only been broken once or twice the entire season but not in mixed doubles.”
In the fourth set, the women’s doubles, Townsend & Caroline Dolehide had an uphill battle against one of the top teams in Vandeweghe & Nicole Melichar, who came to New York over from San Diego Aviators in a trade last Sunday.
Townsend & Dolehide played their impressive part for Philadelphia, earning the 5-3 win and setting up the dramatic conclusion.
New York went into the final men’s singles with a 17-14 lead and Sock, playing in his third WTT season and first for the Empire, clinched the win with a 5-3 tiebreaker win over the Freedoms’ Taylor Fritz to take the set 5-4.
“It’s very exciting,” said Sock, who has won Wimbledon twice and the US Open twice in doubles. “The camaraderie and energy we have, we all feed off each other pretty well and play our best tennis.
“We are going to keep going. We don’t mind being the underdogs as the four seed.”
Fritz, who on Friday was named the league’s Male Most Valuable Player, actually won more points in the close set, 25-24, but the power-serving Sock never lost his serve.
“I knew if I would have gotten broken it could have been stressful and didn’t want to have to be extended to a Super Tiebreaker,” Sock said.
Jensen said Sock has been the difference maker this season.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable and we have such a great team vibe,” Jensen said. “The coach’s position here is don’t screw it up because the players know how to practice and they know their games.
“It’s important that I empower them, win or lose, to have fun.”
Philadelphia coach Craig Kardon said: “New York was better than us today. They played like they had nothing to lose, and we played like we had everything to lose.
“We knew it was going to come down to the final set, which was men’s singles, and we didn’t have enough games to have Taylor (Fritz) swing freely.”
New York Empire def. Philadelphia Freedoms, 22-18
- Men’s Doubles – Jack Sock\Neal Skupski (Empire) def. Fabrice Martin\Taylor Fritz (Freedoms) 5-3
- Women’s Singles – Sofia Kenin (Freedoms) def. CoCo Vandeweghe (Empire) 5-4
- Mixed Doubles – CoCo Vandeweghe\Jack Sock (Empire) def. Taylor Fritz\Taylor Townsend (Freedoms) 5-1
- Women’s Doubles – Caroline Dolehide\Taylor Townsend (Freedoms) def. CoCo Vandeweghe\Nicole Melichar (Empire) 5-3
- Men’s Singles – Jack Sock (Empire) def. Taylor Fritz (Freedoms) 5-4
Chicago Smash storm Orlando
Chicago smashed the Storm, beating Orlando, 24-13, to set up the star-studded final against New York Empire and ending the No 2 seed’s 7-match win streak in the semi-final on Saturday.
Chicago is led by 2017 US Open Champion Sloane Stephens and also includes 9-time Grand Slam Champion (Mixed/Women’s Doubles) and 2020 WTT Female MVP Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and two-time Australian Open Champion Rajeev Ram (Men’s Doubles/Mixed Doubles).
“Being the MVP of the league is such a huge honour,” said Mattek-Sands. “I’m here for three weeks so you just go match by match.
“I was just ready to do what I needed for the team if that required mixed doubles, doubles, singles, bench, energy, whatever it took.
“It’s an MVP, but it still takes a team”
After a 3-match losing streak to end the regular season, Chicago coach Kamau Murray said: “I think we had some hiccups this week and had some tough conversations as a team.
“The respect level is there among the team, and everybody owned their part of it and regrouped.
“I thought today was a good example of hitting the reset button and take ownership of what happens… I thought we managed the momentum better than we did the last three matches.”
Playing at Center Court at Creekside at The Greenbrier, Orlando’s juggernaut of Ken Skupski & Tennys Sandgren, the WTT’s top men’s doubles duo, went ahead 1-0 but it was all Smash from that point as Brandon Nakashima held serve before Chicago broke Skupski and then Ram lofted a volley up the line to give the Chicago a 3-1 lead.
Nakashima drove a forehand winner for the point to break Sandgren’s serve, and then the 18-year-old opened the clinching game with a 123-mph ace.
A brief delay for lightning only postponed the inevitable and Ram dropped in a winner at the net for set point, which Nakashima delivered as Skupski’s return was long to seal a 5-1 win for the 3rd-seeded Smash.
“I really enjoyed it; it’s a lot of fun out there,” Nakashima said. “Playing against Tennys, he’s such a great player, so it was overall a great experience for me.
“It’s been great so far, playing alongside these great people,” he added. “It’s a pleasure to be around them.
“This season, everyone has played their part in a positive way. I’m just lucky to be part of it.”
The women’s singles also was halted by weather and after the short delay, Jessica Pegula outlasted Stephens, 5-4.
Pegula, who entered with a 6-match win streak and 8-1 overall in WTT singles, was broken for a 3-2 lead by Stephens, but responded with back-to-back games to cut Orlando’s deficit to 8-5 overall.
In the 9-point tiebreaker, Pegula served to 2-0 lead, took a 3-1 advantage, then served out as Orlando won the set 5-4 to pull within 9-6.
The Storm shook up its mixed doubles pairing, swapping out Skupski in favour of Sandgren with Pegula to face Mattek-Sands & Ram.
“Playing with Bethanie,” Ram said, “it’s so awesome. She’s got a ridiculous resume, and I’ve played against her many times, but we’ve known each other for a long, long time.
“It’s fun to get on the same side of the court and, I feel like, when we play well, we’re pretty tough to beat.”
Chicago won 3 of the first 4 points, including breaking Sandgren’s serve in the opening game and Ram putting the exclamation point on a 2-0 lead with a 128-mph serve.
After splitting 4 points, Pegula served to keep Orlando close, but Mattek-Sands slammed the door at set point for a 5-3 win and 14-9 lead.
Mattek-Sands stayed on for the women’s doubles, teaming with Genie Bouchard to face Orlando’s tandem of Pegula & Darija Jurak.
Chicago fell behind 2-1 and 3-2, but finished off the game by winning 3 consecutive points to take the set, 5-3.
In the men’s singles match, Nakashima jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead with 2 breaks of Sandgren’s service, including being down 0-30 in the 3rd point.
Sandgren held serve to pull within 4-1, but Nakashima served it out for a 5-1 win and a championship match-clinching 24-13 victory for the Smash.
“It feels great to be in the final,” Nakashima said. “I felt a little bit of pressure playing Tennys because I had lost to him already earlier in the season.
“We had a couple of tough losses at the end but we just said let’s forget about it and focus on the playoffs and that’s what we did.”
Chicago won both their matches against New York in the regular season but the Empire has since acquired Coco Vandeweghe and Nicole Melichar from the San Diego Aviators.
“They’re a great team,” Ram said. “I think Beth said it exactly right: In team events, you can affect other people. The best thing I can do in doubles is to make my partner play well. If they play well, my job is easy.
“Top to bottom, every point is going to be everybody’s responsibility – not just the person on the court.”
Chicago faces New York at noon ET on Sunday for the coveted King Trophy, and a $500,000 payout to the winning team while the finalists will split $250,000.
Chicago Smash def. Orlando Storm, 24-13
- Men’s Doubles – Rajeev Ram\Brandon Nakashima (Smash) def. Ken Skupski\Tennys Sandgren (Storm) 5-1
- Women’s Singles – Jessica Pegula (Storm) def. Sloane Stephens (Smash) 5-4
- Mixed Doubles – Bethanie Mattek-Sands\Rajeev Ram (Smash) def. Jessica Pegula\Tennys Sandgren (Storm) 5-3
- Women’s Doubles – Bethanie Mattek-Sands\Eugenie Bouchard (Smash) def. Jessica Pegula\Darija Jurak (Storm) 5-3
- Men’s Singles – Brandon Nakashima (Smash) def. Tennys Sandgren (Storm) 5-1
WTT introduced professional team tennis in 1974, with Billie Jean King serving as its co-founder, and is one of 5 active US pro sports leagues which has been in operation for over 40 years, along with the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB.