D.C. sports fans cherish the recent successes of Ryan Zimmerman and the Nationals, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, and the early-season hit of RGIII and the Redskins. But what fans don’t realize is that perhaps the most successful DC sports team plays its home matches right downtown.
The Washington Kastles of the World Team Tennis league, led by superstar sisters Venus and Serena Williams, are riding a 30 match win streak dating from 2011, including the 2011 WTT championship. They travel to Charleston, SC for the Finals Weekend starting Sept. 14. The Black and White talked to Kastles General Manager Kevin Wynne on the team’s success, the impact on D.C. and the building of a winning franchise.
Black & White: How has the team excited the city and DC’s sports fans?
Kevin Wynne: I think the culmination of the winning, the fact that we’re based right downtown, I think people have embraced us becoming a true part of the fabric of DC. The fact that we have some of the highest profile players in tennis, Venus and Serena Williams speak for themselves, but Leander Paes is one of the most accomplished doubles players of the last 20 years. And we have a very high-energy game atmosphere, we have cheerleaders, we have cheering, we have contests during breaks in the action, we throw t-shirts into the stands.
It’s not the traditional tennis that is fairly stale, it has a better atmosphere. All of those ingredients together have created this groundswell that people have enjoyed being a part of and we have been able to expand our fan base every year as a result of it.
B&W: How have the Kastles contributed to the struggling sports scene of Washington?
KW: Fans in general like to cheer for winners and there’s a big challenge in pro sports with the high costs of player personnel and dealing with different salaries and salary cap issued. It’s not as easy as it sounds to just field a championship team dealing with injuries and a whole host of things like that. From our prospective, it has certainly helped for fans to embrace us the fact that we’ve consistently won in our first 5 years.
B&W: How has the success and popularity of the Kastles boosted the popularity of playing tennis in the D.C. area?
KW: It’s actually part of our mission. When Mark Ein, the owner of the team, created the team in 2008, one of our core principles was really to expand tennis to a more broader audience. We give away about 750-800 free tennis rackets a year to kids 12 and under that attend our matches. If you’re going to expose tennis to a larger audience, primarily young people, you want to empower them with the tools to play. Something unique in WTT is that every kid 16 and under can line up after the match and get an autograph of every player who played that night, from the highest ranked player on the court to the lowest ranked player.
When you do those kinds of things it’s going to energize and excite the kids to play. That’s a big part of trying to expand the game and the tennis audience here, by giving kids the tools to play.
B&W: How have the Kastles contributed to the pro tours of tennis?
KW: Venus and Serena have been a core part of our team for a number of years and have wide name recognition. [Victoria] Azaranka played for us in 2010, and at that time she was not highly ranked. After playing with us, she really broke through in that year and a half to where she is now as the No. 1 ranked women’s player in the world [and the runner-up of this year’s US Open]. I don’t know if it’s magic or something very special about the Kastles, but both our current and former players have dominated on the ATP and WTA tours and we’re very proud of that.
B&W: Is it easier for fans to understand the format of WTT matches compared to true pro matches?
KW: Well I think it’s a little bit of a double edged sword. The rules with WTT are different enough, that if you follow traditional tennis it’s hard to understand the cumulative scoring system and the fact that you play 5 sets regardless of WTT. For those who have not followed tour tennis much, it’s a very easy format. It resonates with fans easier because you’re rooting for your city team, similar to how you would root for the Wizards or the Capitals or the Redskins, as opposed to just individual players.
B&W: What do you think or hope will happen this weekend at the Finals Weekend?
KW: I don’t know what will happen, but I can tell you what we’re hoping for. We hope to continue our undefeated streak and finish 2 perfect back-to-back seasons, 2 championships back-to-back, and then see what happens in the future.