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July 20, 2011

Williams Sisters Team Up in Pro Tennis League

by Parke Brewer

World Team Tennis, an innovative, three-week-long professional league in the United States started by legendary women’s player Billie Jean King, is still going strong in its 36th season in the United States. And the team in the nation’s capital, the Washington Kastles - led by Venus and Serena Williams - has been tops in the league this season. Like the others who are competing this month in the league, they not only play but also give back to the game.

When they are not competing for Grand Slam tennis titles, American stars Venus and Serena Williams spend a lot of time giving back to the game, conducting free clinics for young children. That is a regular part of match days in World Team Tennis.

Venus said it gives her a good feeling when she sees the high interest level, especially among ethnic minority children.

“It’s great to see young people playing in general, but also seeing young African-Americans playing tennis is fantastic, too. But I think my main focus is just young people playing and mostly doing positive things with their lives,” she said.

Younger sister Serena agrees.

“You know it’s really cool. You come out and you help the kids or you watch them play, and you never know what one kid or two kids, or however many kids, you can ultimately influence,” said Serena.

World Team Tennis officials say they hope these clinics can spur continued growth of the sport.

Venus and Serena have another sister who lives in Washington, and Serena said playing for the Kastles here in the nation’s capital is a bonus.

“I love playing for the Kastles, and I love playing for the city, and I love the city. And it’s so beautiful, and now we’re right on the water. So it’s just amazing playing in an amazing stadium and it’s great,” said Serena.

After playing downtown in a temporary stadium last year, the Kastles home venue, which features a unique multi-colored court, now is on the Potomac River. And it has been filled to capacity for all of their games this season.

At one match, even first lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters came out to cheer the home team.

World Team Tennis features men and women in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, and has its own scoring rules and regulations.

Venus Williams likes that aspect of the league.

“Every game counts, so even if you don’t win your match, if you get some games for your team, ultimately that can lead to a win for everyone. So everyone has to contribute an equal part, and that’s what really makes it unique,” she said.

Serena Williams said she enjoys being her older sister's teammate.

“She doesn’t necessarily give me advice. We just go out and do our best and try to play well for the Kastles. We’re both really excited to be playing for the same team,” said Serena.

And the Washington Kastles, which also features doubles specialist Leander Paes of India, has been the best this season in World Team Tennis, becoming the first team to clinch a playoff berth by winning their first 13 matches.