Tennis fans in the northeast usually have to wait until late-summer to see the game's biggest names in person, but thanks to World Team Tennis and the work of its co-founders, Ilana Kloss and Billie Jean King, fans in the area will be able to get a fix of top-flight talent over the next few weeks in the New York area.
WTT's New York franchise, the Sportimes, is playing out their July home schedule at the gleaming $18.5 million dollar 2,000 seat Sportime Tennis Center on Randall's Island, and over the next week the team will host some of the sport's biggest names in the WTT team format, including reigning US Open champion Kim Clijsters, top American Andy Roddick, legendary doubles champion Leander Paes, Sportimes team captain John McEnroe and perhaps the biggest star, Wimbledon champion Serena Williams.
Williams took a few minutes out from her post-Wimbledon victory tour (which includes a stop over in Belgium for an exhibition against Clijsters in what is being billed as the largest-attended tennis match ever) to fill people in on the goings on and what to expect when she comes to New York to play on Randall's Island on Thursday, July 15.
"WTT is a great opportunity to get us away from the grind of the tour and let us have some fun in a very different format," she said. "It is a fun way for me to get to play in front of fans in places like Philly and Washington where I don't usually go, and any time we get to play in New York is also an added plus. It's a great experience for the fans in all the cities we play in."
In addition to the 7:00pm match on the 15th, Williams will pair with sister Serena for the first time in World Team Tennis, as members of the defending champion Washington Kastles. Serena told her sister to "expect to have a lot of fun and enjoy the fans in Washington, because the WTT format is different than what we usually go through." Venus, who is also currently on a tour promoting her new book Come To Win, got some additional advice from her younger sister, who is herself an author. "I told her that book tours are long and have to get done and you have to get through it, but the book itself is great and people will enjoy it, which is a big part of the battle."
The match for the Sportimes on the 15th against Washington (who they also defeated in overtime on opening night Monday) is the mid-point of the WTT season for the teams, who compress an amazing 14 matches into just three weeks in July, at a time when most players are gearing up for the US Open Series and the culmination of the season at the end of the summer.
However for players like Williams, WTT is a chance to give back and have some fun on the court with a team-based format that encourages teamwork, the support of a coach and most importantly, a great environment for fans; one akin to minor league baseball, with promotions, cheers and even a mascot in New York (Tennis the Menace).
In addition to Thursday, the Sportimes will host matches on Sunday at 4pm (Kids day against the Philadelphia Freedoms, Monday at 7pm against the Springfield Lazers and Wednesday at 7pm against the Freedoms (with Roddick taking on McEnroe). They will also be home against the New York (Albany) Buzz on the 19th, with Clijsters taking on Martina Hingis in a featured match. All said, however, the biggest night for tennis fans may still be next Thursday, when the Wimbledon champ graces New York's court in a pre-US Open treat.
For the complete schedule of all the WTT action the next few weeks, please click here.
Follow Peter Robert Casey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_R_Casey