The regular season concluded, World TeamTennis is set for the Playoffs on Saturday to be played at the same venue, The Greenbrier ‘America’s Resort’ in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, with the 4 semi-finalists now determined – Philadelphia Freedoms, Orlando Storm, Chicago Smash and New York Empire.
We are definitely happy to get the win. We know the playoff brackets are out and we play New York, so it’s always good to get the win and gain some confidence. Fabrice Martin, Philadelphia Freedoms
Chicago suffered its 3rd loss in a row after a one-point defeat to the last-placed San Diego Aviators, and the defeat has dropped them down to 3rd seed status in the Playoffs, edged out of 2nd place by Orlando on a better tiebreak record.
New York claimed the final post-season berth on Wednesday following their dramatic 21-19 win over the Orange County Breakers and the Washington Kastles’ 19-16 loss to the Vegas Rollers.
On Thursday, in a preview of the coming semi-final, the Freedoms took out Empire, 23-17.
Early on it looked as though Philadelphia would snap their 3-match losing streak to New York, jumping out to an early 9-1 overall lead.
New York, however, refused to go away and quickly crawled back to within 14-9 by half-time but the lead was too much to overcome, and the Freedoms finished the regular season with a 12-2 record.
“We are definitely happy to get the win,” said Philadelphia’s Fabrice Martin following the match. “We know the playoff brackets are out and we play New York, so it’s always good to get the win and gain some confidence.”
“We got a lot of information from the match,” said Philadelphia coach Craig Kardon. ”We played them before but you never know what team they’re going to put out there, but we know our team and we’re comfortable with our players, and we’re really looking forward to the challenge on Saturday.”
With each team winning 2 sets and Philadelphia holding a slim 18-14 lead, it all came down to the final discipline, the men’s doubles.
Ulises Blanch, subbing for Jack Sock, who was out with a minor lower back strain, served first for the Empire and caught the ear of teammate Neal Skupski, sending his partner down onto the court.
Skupski was unhurt and able to play on, and the pair went to win the opening game to slice Philadelphia’s lead to 18-15.
With the set level at 3-3 Philadelphia gained the upper hand, breaking Skupski on a deciding point to take the lead.
Serving for the set on another deciding point, Martin avoided the tiebreak with an overhead away to secure the victory.
Taylor Fritz had opened with a 5-1 win in the men’s singles over Blanch, before Sofia Kenin jumped out to a 4-0 lead over newly acquired Coco Vandeweghe in the women’s singles.
With the changeover in each discipline coming after 4 games, Vandeweghe used the break as a reset and came back winning the next 4 games to level the set and force the first of 2 tiebreaks on the night.
In the breaker, Vandeweghe won the first 2 points en route to the 5-1 win, taking the set 5-4 to bring New York back within 9-6.
Empire won the opening game of the mixed doubles to claw within 9-7, but that was the closest they got as the Philadelphia duo of Martin & Taylor Townsend broke newly acquired Nicole Melichar to take a 2-1 lead before consolidating the break with a service hold en route to the 5-3 win and a 14-9 lead at half-time.
“We really have built our franchise the last couple of years around their model – strong, intelligent, forceful, talented women who can play all disciplines,” said Empire coach Luke Jensen. “We competed extremely well. We didn’t roll over…We’re going to bring our energy.
“We’re going to bring our enthusiasm and then the game follows that. I really think they played extremely well tonight, but we just kept clawing the whole time and that’s going to rebound us to the next match.”
Chicago Smash go down to San Diego Aviators
San Diego Aviators’ narrow defeat of hosts Chicago Smash proved costly but offered plenty of drama.
Christina McHale & Kveta Peschke forced Extended Play after taking the women’s doubles set and immediately tied the overall score to set up a supertiebreaker.
For the second consecutive day, Chicago (9-5) dropped the super tiebreaker and lost, 23-22, to secure the 3rd seed in the four-team playoff.
With the morning sun casting shadows across the court, Aviators’ Jonny O’Mara & Ryan Harrison took on Chicago’s Rajeev Ram & Brandon Nakashima in the men’s doubles, which ended with a 9-point tiebreaker.
San Diego held 2-1 and 4-3 leads in the breaker before Chicago took the match 5-4 after O’Mara double-faulted on back-to-back services.
Nakashima & Harrison remained on the court for men’s singles in which Nakashima rallied to tie before falling behind 4-2.
The 18-year-old, however, broke Harrison’s serve to force another 9-point tiebreaker.
Tied at 1 point apiece, Harrison took 4 of the next 5 for the win, and levelled the match at 9-9.
“There have been a lot of close losses so this one feels good to get,” Harrison said. “It gives us confidence going into the offseason so we can come back next year and pick up where we left off. It’s always good to end the year with a win.”
A 9-point tiebreaker also decided the mixed doubles match after Chicago took a 3-0 lead before the Aviators drew within 4-3.
With Bethanie Mattek-Sands serving, the Smash was up 0-40 only to see San Diego scratch back to force the breaker when Lisicki drove a winner up the line.
Chicago took a 3-1 lead on the strength of a Mattek-Sands rocket return and Ram capitalising on a volley return down the line.
With Lisicki serving set point, Mattek-Sands sealed the match with an overhand smash to give Chicago a 14-13 advantage.
Sloane Stephens and Christina McHale were matched up in women’s singles, and the 2017 US Open champion bookended a 5-2 win by breaking the Aviator’s serve.
McHale cut the deficit to 3-2 and when, in the 7th game, Stephens fell behind 0-30 Smash coach Kamau Murray called a GEICO timeout, spurring the 27-year-old to break McHale’s serve again to take the match 5-2 and push Chicago to a 19-15 lead.
McHale & Kveta Peschke forced Extended Play against Mattek-Sands & Genie Bouchard in the women’s doubles, tying at 1-1.
Peschke’s double fault buoyed the Smash duo to a 3-1 advantage as the Aviators earned a break at 3-all.
The Aviators capped a 4-game run to earn Extended Play at 5-3, in which McHale pulled the Aviators within a point before breaking Bouchard’s serve to set up a supertiebreak at 22-all.
In the 13-point breaker, Mattek-Sands’ serve ended at 5-5 to set up McHale for the final 3 serves and the Aviators lurched ahead 6-5.
At match point, Peschke dropped in the winner for a 23-22 victory to end San Diego’s 7-match losing streak.
Orlando Storm lock up No 2 Seed with Washington take out
The Kastles’ postseason hopes were dashed in a disappointing 25-15 loss to the Storm on Thursday as Orlando swept all 5 sets, with Washington winning 4 points only once.
Jessica Pegula twice got the better of Venus Williams, first in a 5-3 win in their singles set, and followed that up with a 5-4(0) triumph alongside Skupski in the mixed doubles against Pera & Arevalo.
Tennys Sandgren finished things off for Orlando with a 5-2 win in men’s singles over Tommy Paul. The Storm have reeled off seven straight victories heading into the playoffs.
The Kastles lost their last two matchups to end the regular season a game out of the postseason.
It was Orlando’s 7th consecutive victory, securing them the No 2 seed position to play No 3 seed Chicago Smash in a semi-final on Saturday.
“Seven in a row now, we’re playing really well,” Tennys Sandgren said. ”I think everybody is meshing well and the team is enjoying playing with each other and for each other.
“Our girls are playing phenomenal. We’ve got James Ward on the bench bringing on the hype. Yeah, things are going really well for us.”
Orlando was rarely challenged in what turned out to be their 2nd match sweep of the season.
It took the women’s doubles for the Kastles to break the Storm’s serve, Orlando having only faced 4 break points up until the 4th set.
Jessica Pegula & Darija Jurak snuffed out any momentum that break might have given the Kastles by breaking back immediately, thanks to a couple of winners from Jurak, to gain a 2-1 lead in the set.
Washington had 2 more chances to break in the next game, but on both points, Pegula stepped in front of a Venus Williams backhand, court centre, and Williams’ partner, Bernarda Pera, was unable to return either volley.
A similar scene concluded the set a few games later after Jurak returned 5 consecutive shots following her serve at 40-30 and 4-3, and Pegula once again shuffled over at the net to pick off a Williams backhand and dropping it down the middle.
That set point also gave Orlando its 20th game of the match, thereby cementing its future as WTT’s No. 2 seed, even with a loss to Washington, but the Storm didn’t let up as Sandgren, in an essentially meaningless men’s singles set, closed out the match by taking care of Tommy Paul in just 22 minutes, 5-2.
Sandgren & Ken Skupski had started the afternoon with a 5-3 victory in men’s doubles against Marcelo Arevalo & Nick Monroe.
“I think we complement each other pretty well,” Sandgren said of his doubles teammate. “I’ve got the big serve and Ken is cleaning up at the net.
“Occasionally, I can scrap some volleys in there on his serve, but we’ve both been returning well and vibing well on the court and that has translated into some good matches.”
The Kastles, with a 6-8 record, end their season in 5th place.
Springfield Lasers defeat Orange County Breakers, 21-19
In the only match pitting non-playoff teams against one another, the Springfield Lasers wrapped up their season with a 2-point win over the Breakers.
Steve Johnson could have pushed the match into Extended Play, and he nearly did in his five-set men’s singles clash with Mitchell Krueger.
On the final point, Johnson watched his backhand return sail long and immediately sank to his knees out of frustration.
As a result, there will be a new champion in World TeamTennis for the first time in 4 years, with the 2-time defending champion Springfield Lasers and 2004/2017 champion Orange County Breakers failing to advance to the Playoffs this season.
In the men’s doubles, Jean-Julien Rojer & Robert Lindstedt faced Austin Krajicek & Luke Bambridge and it was the latter’s stellar serving that proved to be the difference, as the American-British pair won all 18 of their first serve points to earn a 5-3 win in the tiebreaker over the veteran Lasers team.
Springfield came back fighting to take the lead in the next set, as Olga Govortsova & Caty McNally defeated Andreja Klepac and Gaby Dabrowski, 5-2.
The Belarusian Govortsova was substituted at 2-1 in the set by Lasers coach John-Laffnie de Jager to replace Hayley Carter.
Springfield continued their momentum with the experienced Lindstedt joining forces with the rising 18-year-old star McNally to defeat Johnson & Jennifer Brady, 5-3, as the Lasers saved both break points they faced in the set.
Brady has stepped up her level in the last couple of weeks and her 2nd WTT season culminated in a dominant 5-2 win over Govortsova to bring the Breakers right back into the match.
Trailing 16-15 heading into the 5th and final set for a 2nd consecutive match, it came down to Johnson to pull off the comeback in men’s singles.
Mitchell Krueger had other ideas, however, as the 26-year-old earned his second tiebreak win over Johnson in 5 days to seal the 21-19 victory for Springfield in their regular-season finale.
Thursday’s Results, July 30, 2020
San Diego Aviators 23, Chicago Smash 22 (STB)
- Men’s Doubles – Rajeev Ram\Brandon Nakashima (Smash) def. Jonny O’Mara\Ryan Harrison (Aviators), 5-4
- Men’s Singles – Harrison (Aviators) def. Nakashima (Smash), 5-4
- Mixed Doubles – Ram\Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Smash) def. O’Mara\Sabine Lisicki (Aviators), 5-4
- Women’s Singles – Sloane Stephens (Smash) def. Christina McHale (Aviators), 5-2
- Women’s Doubles – McHale\Kveta Peschke (Aviators) def. Mattek-Sands\Genie Bouchard (Smash), 5-3
- Extended Play – Women’s Doubles – McHale\Peschke (Aviators) def. Mattek-Sands\Bouchard (Smash), 2-0
- Supertiebreaker – Women’s Doubles – McHale\Peschke (Aviators) def. Mattek-Sands\Bouchard (Smash), 1-0 (7-5 tiebreaker)
Springfield Lasers 21, Orange County Breakers 19
- Men’s Doubles – Luke Bambridge\Austin Krajicek (Breakers) def. Jean-Julien Rojer\Robert Lindstedt (Lasers), 5-4
- Women’s Doubles – Caty McNally\Olga Govortsova (Lasers) def. Gabriela Dabrowski\Jennifer Brady (Breakers), 5-2
- Mixed Doubles – Lindstedt\McNally (Lasers) def. Steve Johnson\Brady (Breakers), 5-3
- Women’s Singles – Brady (Breakers) def. Govortsova (Lasers), 5-2
- Men’s Singles – Mitchell Krueger (Lasers) def. Johnson (Breakers), 5-4
Orlando Storm 25, Washington Kastles 15
- Men’s Doubles – Ken Skupski\Tennys Sandgren (Storm) def. Nick Monroe\Marcelo Arevalo (Kastles), 5-3
- Women’s Singles – Jessica Pegula (Storm) def. Venus Williams (Kastles), 5-3
- Mixed Doubles – Skupski\Pegula (Storm) def. Arevalo\Bernarda Pera (Kastles), 5-4
- Women’s Doubles – Darija Jurak\Pegula (Storm) def. Williams\Pera (Kastles), 5-3
- Men’s Singles – Sandgren (Storm) def. Tommy Paul (Kastles), 5-2
Philadelphia Freedoms 23, New York Empire 17
- Men’s Singles – Taylor Fritz (Freedoms) def. Jack Sock (Empire), 5-1
- Women’s Singles – Coco Vandeweghe (Empire) def. Sofia Kenin (Freedoms), 5-4
- Mixed Doubles – Fabrice Martin\Taylor Townsend (Freedoms) def. Neal Skupski\Nicole Melichar (Empire), 5-3
- Women’s Doubles – Vandeweghe\Melichar (Empire) def. Kenin\Caroline Dolehide (Freedoms), 5-4
- Men’s Doubles – Fritz\Martin (Freedoms) def. Sock\Skupski (Empire), 5-3
(STB) – Supertiebreaker
Wold TeamTennis Playoffs Schedule
WTT Semifinals – Saturday, Aug. 1
- Philadelphia Freedoms vs. New York Empire, 2pm ET
- Orlando Storm vs. Chicago Smash, 5pm ET
WTT Final – Sunday, Aug. 2
- Semi-final winners, 12 pm ET
Daily WTT video highlights can be found here (video courtesy – World TeamTennis): https://vimeopro.com/worldteamtennis/wtt-2020-video-highlights.