Sunday, August 2, 2020

New York Empire Saves Championship Point to Take World Team Tennis Title; Proposed Carson California Athletic Center Receives $50 Million for Construction

Coco Vandeweghe
 photo credit: World Team Tennis

Less than a week ago, two members of World Team Tennis champions the New York Empire were playing for another team. But heading into the third week of the season, the San Diego Aviators traded Nicole Melichar and Coco Vandeweghe to the Empire for Kveta Peschke, Sabine Lisicki and "financial considerations," and the pair ended up delivering the title Sunday afternoon in women's doubles, winning the ultimate deciding point against the Chicago Smash in a Super Tiebreaker.

The Empire led 10-6 after Jack Sock and Neal Skupski(LSU) defeated Rajeev Ram(Illinois) and Brandon Nakashima(Virginia) 5-2 in men's doubles, then Sock and Vandeweghe beat Ram and Bethanie Mattek-Sands 5-4 in mixed doubles.

With men's singles next up, after Smash coach Kamau Murray elected to have the match finish with women's doubles, Nakashima gave Chicago an 11-10 lead by crushing Sock 5-0. Sloane Stephens beat Vandeweghe 5-3 in women's singles to extend that lead to 16-13, so Vandeweghe and Melichar had to win the women's doubles over Mattek-Sands and Eugenie Bouchard to force extended play.

If the trailing team wins that fifth set, the match continues, if the leading team wins it, the match ends with a victory for them. At 3-all, Mattek-Sands dropped serve, giving Melichar an opportunity to serve for the set, but she was broken. In the tiebreaker, which the Empire had to win, they went up 4-1, only to see the Smash come back to 4-all. There is no "win by two" in the World Team Tennis tiebreakers, so the next point would decide if the match would continue. Melichar, who had had some shaky serves came up with a great first serve on the T to take the point and the game and the set, forcing extended play. The Smash still led 20-18 in total games, so they had to win the next two games to force a Super Tiebreaker.

Vandeweghe held serve easily, making it 20-19, but Mattek-Sands had the opportunity to serve out the championship. She was unable to, with some great returning by Vandeweghe and Melichar leading to the Super Tiebreaker. Unlike the nine-point tiebreaker, first to 5 normally played, this one is 13 points, first to 7, with a winner-take-all point should it get to 6-6.

At the stage, Murray substituted Stephens for Bouchard, and she helped the Smash to a 5-3 lead, but Melichar and Vandeweghe got the mini-break back, and by winning three points in a row, had a championship point of their own with Stephens serving at 5-6. Stephens hit an ace, meaning that one point would decide the championship. Stephens had one more serve, but the returns had been dominant most of the match, and so it proved in this case, with Vandeweghe ripping a forehand return on the back of the baseline to give the Empire its first WTT title.

All lines throughout the three weeks were called electronically and were not subject to review or challenge, but as you can see in the tweet below, the margin between a title and finishing second was about as close as it could be.

New York was the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, but took out No. 1 seed Philadelphia 22-18, with Sock beating Taylor Fritz in the fifth set to send the Empire to the final. Chicago, the No. 3 seed, defeated No. 2 seed Orlando Storm 24-13.

Sock was named the men's MVP, despite his loss in men's singles today, and Vandeweghe, who also lost in singles today, was named the women's MVP, emphasizing the importance of doubles in the format.

The Empire shares $500,000 in prize money, in addition to their salaries and other bonuses they may have earned; the Smash shares $250,000.

Overall the World Team Tennis season has to provide optimism for tennis, with no positive Covid-19 tests reported throughout the three-week season, given that the bubble at The Greenbrier is much less strict than what has been put in place in New York for the Western & Southern Open and US Open. And the extensive presence on television throughout, including the finals airing on network TV today, gave tennis some exposure as other pro sports are just ramping up.

Earlier last year, the development of the Carol Kimmelman Athletic and Academic Campus in Carson California was announced, with support from the Tiger Woods' TGR Foundation and the USTA Foundation as well as the Kimmelman family. I had heard that county politics and environmental considerations had led to delays in groundbreaking, but the project is back in the news this week, with the announcement of $50 million dollars in funding for construction costs. This Los Angeles Times article projects a late 2021 or early 2022 opening at the site of a former golf course, which is just up the street from the Dignity Health Sports Park, site of the ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships and the USTA Player Development West training center.