New York Empire Win World TeamTennis Title By Inches

WASHINGTON, August 3, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The 45th edition of World TeamTennis was unique in every sense of the word, in which all nine franchises converged on a luxury resort nestled in the Allegheny mountains of West Virginia. The WTT decided it was best to quarantine together and cut out cross-country travel as a means of combating the coronavirus – and it worked.

On Sunday afternoon, the culmination of three weeks of nearly every day competition resulted in one very exciting championship final between the New York Empire and the Chicago Smash at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

The season’s last match, with the King Trophy named after Hall of Fame great and WTT co-founder Billie Jean King riding on the outcome, came down to a single point, worth $500,000. The Smash’s Sloane Stephens served. Coco Vandeweghe of the Empire went for the return of Stephens’ serve. She hit it solidly and it landed on the back of the baseline for a winner, which replay confirmed.

With one very well-timed and placed winner – by inches – the Empire won the WTT title over the Smash 21-20.

Intense, epic, choose your adjective. It was exciting and unpredictable. Both teams were underdogs going into the playoffs, with the Smash seeded third and the Empire fourth. However, on Saturday, New York knocked off the No. 1 seed and regular season champion Philadelphia Freedoms. Then, Chicago followed by upsetting the hottest team in the league, the Orlando Storm, which came into the semifinals on a seven-match winning streak.

Vandeweghe was named WTT Finals Female MVP while her teammate Jack Sock was given the WTT Finals Male MVP award.

“I’ve never been under that kind of pressure I think ever,” Vandeweghe said, quoted by the WTT website. “It was so much fun to have it on my racquet to be able to control the situation. Luckily, I controlled it in the right way. So, I really pumped and it just really accentuated what WTT is.”

The Empire rallied during the final set of regulation, in women’s doubles as Vandeweghe and Nicole Melichar beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Stephens, who subbed in for Eugenie Bouchard. The Smash lost the set 5-4 and the subsequent extended play period 2-0. So, with the team score level at 20-20, it set up a winner-take-all tie-break, first to seven wins the title.

Tied at 6-all in the tie-break, Stephens served to Vandeweghe’s forehand side and she ripped a winner that went past Stephens. Although Chicago challenged the call, it clipped the baseline as the replay review clearly showed.

“I went down on my knees [like] I missed it because I saw all their fingers go up,” said Vandeweghe, who along with Melichar was acquired in a late-season trade from the San Diego Aviators. “And I couldn’t hear what the actual call was – if there was a call or anything. Then, my team swarmed me so I was like, OK it was in, but I was panicking.”

Said Empire coach Luke Jensen: “It comes down to the last point, the last swing. When you’re a Grand Slam champion you’re a made person, you’ve accomplished what you’ve wanted as a kid. She didn’t even hesitate to take that shot.”

Zverev, Pavlyuchenkova crowned UTS 2 champions

Alexander Zverev took everyone on a wild ride through sudden death en route to winning the Ultimate Tennis Showdown 2 title at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy near Nice, France, on Sunday night.

The World No. 6, who was seeded into the semifinals defeated the other seeded semifinalist, No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime, in the championship showdown. Zverev won the first and fourth quarters while Auger-Aliassime captured the middle two quarters. It set up a sudden-death quarter, which Zverev prevailed 2-1.

Earlier, Zverev reached the final by defeated Corentin Moutet 3-1 while Auger-Aliassime rallied to beat Richard Gasquet 3-1.

In the women’s final, Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova needed sudden death to beat Alizé Cornet 3-1 after splitting four quarters of regulation.

Both Zverev and Pavlyuchenkova were awarded lightning bolt trophies during a highly dramatic trophy presentation.

World No. 15 Petra Martic raring to go in Palermo

The WTA relaunches its 2020 season Monday at the Palermo Ladies Open. After World No. 2 Simona Halep and No. 14 Johanna Konta both withdrew, it left No. 15 Petra Martic as the top seed in this outdoor clay-court tournament that also includes two other Top 20 players, No. 18 Marketa Vondrousova and No. 20 Maria Sakkari.

“It’s been so long without tennis, without competition, without the adrenaline that we all kind of love,” Martic told media during a recent WTA All Access Hour, as quoted by the WTA website. “So I was really excited to hear that Palermo and Prague will be 100 percent organized and will go on.

“So I’m just going to try to enjoy myself. To be back on the court right now is really just a privilege without thinking about any results or any goals or focused on numbers or anything else.”

World No. 29 Wang Qiang will not play US tournaments

Last year’s US Open quarterfinalist Wang Qiang, currently ranked 29th, announced Saturday she will not travel to the U.S. to play in either the Western & Southern Open or the US Open, both scheduled for later this month in New York City.

Talking ’bout hair dye with Naomi and Bethanie 

Naomi Osaka, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Ons Jabeur are among the guests on Episode 17 of the ATP/WTA production Tennis United, co-hosted by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vasek Pospisil. Hair dye is a big topic of conversation between Osaka and Mattek-Sands.

What they’re saying

Andy Murray, who has been competing all week at The Battle Of The Brits by playing men’s doubles and mixed doubles, said he is planning to play in the US Open. He is “willing to take a risk” despite not having played on the ATP Tour this year while recovering from injuries.

The 33-year-old Murray has played singles in just two of the past 10 Grand Slams dating back to 2017 Wimbledon following two major hip surgeries.

“The situation I’ve been in the last few years I’ve not had the opportunity to play in many Slams,” Murray said. “I don’t know how many opportunities I’ll have left to play in Slams, so while I’m feeling relatively decent, I want to try and play in them and enjoy the biggest events again. I’ve missed that a lot.”

Murray has won three Grand Slam titles.

Passing shots

Coco Gauff / Let’s continue this, shall we?

What they’re sharing on social media

Elina Svitolina / Freedom is a state of mind