Owner Mark Ein reflects on a successful decade of the D.C. tennis team.
As the Washington Kastles begin their final day of practice before the home opener of their tenth anniversary season, owner Mark Ein watches with a smile.
“When we started this, we had no idea how big it would become,” he says, as he watches three-time Kastles player Madison Brengle rip a backhand on the multi-colored courts of George Washington’s Smith Center. “To see it all grow and be embraced so much by this community has been really special.”
Since the Kastles debuted in 2008, they have been nothing short of dominant. The team has won six league championships in just nine years, including a stretch of five in a row from 2011-2015, and set a major U.S. pro sports record with a winning streak of 34 matches in the process. An equally impressive cast of characters have worn the Kastles crest, including tennis icons Serena and Venus Williams. The combination of star power and success has resulted in numerous sellout crowds at the Smith Center, which serves as the team’s current home.
“We have already written an amazing story,” says coach Murphy Jensen, who has been at the helm of the Kastles since the beginning. Maintaining the standard of excellence established by the team over the years is no easy feat, especially with a constantly changing lineup of players, but Coach Jensen does not seem to feel the pressure. He keeps the practice lighthearted, cracking jokes with his players and emitting a laugh that livens the 5,000 seat arena. For him, the team mentality is everything.
“Our baseline is real simple; number one, we play for this city, and these fans. Number two, our culture is that we play for one another. There is something special about playing for the Kastles. The difference maker is that we are a team, and that the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back of the jersey.”
While the name on the front of the jerseys may be more important, the names on the back for the 2017 season are a sight to behold. Although Serena Williams is not participating this summer, the roster includes her sister, Venus, doubles legends Bob and Mike Bryan, Nick Kyrgios, Wimbledon semi-finalist Sam Querrey, UVA product Treat Huey and Anastasia Rodionova.
The most intriguing roster member, however, is rookie Frances Tiafoe, the youngest participant in the Mylan WTT league at just 19 years old. Largely regarded as the future of American tennis, Tiafoe is a local product who has been cheering for the Kastles since their debut 10 years ago, and has already made quite the impression on the team coach. “I mean wow, the young fresh talent!”exclaims Jensen. “The fact that we have Frances Tiafoe, who was raised here on these tennis courts, will bring a new energy, a new excitement, and a younger fan base who will go bananas about him.”
Rounding out the roster is International Tennis Hall of Famer Martina Hingis, who participated in the Kastles practice less than 24 hours after securing the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon. Her attendance was a confirmation of the team values instilled by coach Jensen, as well as a testament to the level of commitment by the players to the Kastles, in what is traditionally a very individualized sport.
“It is very cool to be back,” remarks Hingis, who was in high spirits, even after a long night of travel. “I am looking forward to another great season and a great atmosphere. ‘Refuse to Lose!’”
The ‘Refuse to Lose’ tagline has been with the Kastles since the beginning, and has resulted in plenty of wins. For owner Ein, the winning serves as a bonus, with the real reward being the level of community outreach and involvement that the team has been able to achieve.
“Obviously, we have done some incredible things on the court,” Ein says, “but what matters just as much to me is what we have done off the court. The clinics with our players, bringing kids who have never been able to see a match the ability to do so, and giving out 10,000 free rackets over the past 10 years. All of these things were the reason that I started the team, and when I think about what has been the most meaningful, it’s definitely the impact that we have had in the community.”
Ein’s passion for the growth of the sport led him to purchase the majority of the Mylan World TeamTennis league from founder Billie Jean King in March, and he hopes to spread Washington’s tennis fever to more places across the U.S. Washington has become a major hub for youth tennis thanks in part to the popularity and success of the Kastles. “I think now, with the Kastles for 3 weeks and then the Citi Open, it’s one of the only places in America where you have a month of pro tennis,” Ein says, referencing the professional tennis tournament in Rock Creek Park that immediately follows the conclusion of the Kastles season. “The reason that happens is the community loves its tennis and will come out and support it.”
The Washington Kastles’ tenth season runs until August 2, with the last home match taking place at the Charles E. Smith Center on July 29. Click here for tickets.