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Serena Williams Leads New DC World Team Tennis Squad

Hall of Fame tennis player Billie Jean King and dignitaries from the nation's Capital have announced the launch of the Washington Kastles World Team Tennis Squad. As VOA's David Byrd reports, the team features eight-time Grand Slam tournament winner Serena Williams, American Justin Gimelstob and some rising stars.

A small crowd of dignitaries and tennis fans gathered Wednesday in a downtown parking lot in Washington. Just up the street from Ford's Theater and the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, Billie Jean King and team owner Mark Ein were announcing the launch of the Washington Kastles World Team Tennis Franchise.

On a cool day in front of a mural depicting the temporary stadium that will be used for the matches beginning in July, Ein said he is expecting great things from the franchise.

"It obviously started with tennis, but we really had a much broader vision that had three components," said Mark Ein. "The first was to expose tennis to people from throughout our community. The second was a real community to charity, the charitable organizations and to community. Lastly, we figure while we have got the site, why don't we do other things with it. And we thought if we build it, hopefully they will come and will create a center of activity where people throughout Washington will be able to enjoy a variety of activities throughout the summer."

The Kastles - led by world number six women's player Serena Williams - play their first home match against the Boston Lobsters. Organizers plan to build a 2,020 - seat stadium at the site of Washington's former Convention Center. The three-week World Team Tennis season allows fans to interact with both rising and retired stars like Anna Kournikova of Russia and John McEnroe of the United States.

World Team Tennis is a format that features 11 teams divided into two geographical regions. Teams include two men and two women, on-court coaching, instant video replay for coaching challenges, and a special scoring system (with super-tiebreakers and no-ad scoring). Each match consists of five sets, with one set each of men's and women's singles, men's and women's doubles and mixed doubles. Washington is scheduled to play seven home matches and seven road matches during the July 3 to 23 regular season.

Billie Jean King, who co-founded the World Team Tennis Pro League 32 years ago, told VOA Sports that team tennis offers fans the chance to see all their favorite players up close. She also said it offers a variety that Davis Cup or Fed Cup play do not.

"Well, the difference is Fed Cup is just women in international play," said Billie Jean King. "Davis Cup is just the men. What I would like us to be, I think we should be the co-ed team sport of the world. And that's what I think we should be, because we have Fed Cup which is the women and Davis Cup for the men, and here's the co-ed. Great format for co-ed and I think we should be it. This was the dream."

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty said the Kastles franchise is part of a renaissance in downtown Washington that has included success for the city's NHL, NBA and Major League Soccer teams and the construction of a new multi-million-dollar stadium for the city's Major League Baseball team. Fenty said he looks forward to bringing exciting tennis to the heart of the city.

"I look forward to being able to come down here during the summer and look at these great tennis matches, and I know so many other residents of the District of Columbia do as well," said Mayor Fenty. "So a great day for Washington, DC, congratulations to all involved, you have the complete support of the District government. Thank you very much."

Currently, the only time Washington fans get to see major tennis players is during the men's annual Legg Mason Tennis Classic in the city's Rock Creek Park. However, tickets for that tournament are more expensive than the World Team matches.

The Kastles also hope to promote tennis in the community. Over the course of the season, the team will give away more than 1,000 rackets to local children. In addition to Williams and men's player Justin Gimelstob, the Kastles feature former top-50 player Mashona Washington, top-ranking junior player Sacha Jones of New Zealand and doubles specialist Scott Oudsema. The World Team Tennis finals are scheduled for July 27 in California.