Features: The Kastles’ Tennis Perfection

by John Arundel

Washington tennis team earns second undefeated season.

By John Arundel

The Kastles celebrate sweet victory in Charleston, S.C. (Photo by Eric Mendelson)

The storybook Washington Kastles did it again over the weekend, taking their winning ways to Charleston, S.C. where they put on a spirited and historic 19-20 victory over the Sacramento Capitals, taking the World Team Tennis Championships for the third time.

Led by closers Venus Williams, Bobby Reynolds, Leander Paes and Anastasia Rodionova, Mark Ein‘s Kastles became the first team in major U.S. pro sports history to complete two consecutive perfect seasons by defeating the Capitals in dramatic, back-and-forth volleys which kept tennis fans in suspense until the final minutes of play.

During 35 years of World Team Tennis match-ups, no team has ever completed a perfect season until the Kastles went 16-0 last year. A second perfect season came all too quickly for the Kastles, as they finished up their 2012 tennis season in identical fashion, 16-0.

“It’s really unbelievable for us,” said Kastles owner and Chevy Chase native Mark Ein, who founded the team in 2008 and celebrated his second consecutive WTT win by announcing his engagement to longtime girlfriend Sally Steibel. “It was a season really beyond our wildest dreams. All season the fans came out in force, inspiring us to play better and take us to one final victory in Charleston.

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And no one, not even those on the Washington roster who appear to play only to win, could have ever imagined that the second perfect season would come the very next year.

The weekend was not without suspense. Washington encountered fifth-set deficits of 15-14 against the Sportimes and 18-17 against the Capitals, before clinching victory and moving on to the match-up against Sacramento.

The Kastles found themselves tied with their opponents entering the final set for the second straight night.

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During the Eastern Conference Championship match on Saturday, Venus won women’s singles to clinch victory for the team.

The Capitals were not without a spirited fight, however, as World No.

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35 Kevin Anderson defeated reigning WTT Male MVP Bobby Reynolds 5-3 in men’s singles. Williams and Rodionova rebounded with a 5-1 win in women’s doubles, but the Kastles’ lead disappeared as Anderson and Mark Knowles upset Reynolds and World No. 5 doubles player Leander Paes 5-2 in men’s doubles.

Leander Paes shows his emotion in the WTT Finals. (Photo by Fred Mullane/Camerawork USA)

Down by a game going into the fourth set, Paes and Williams won mixed doubles 5-4 to tie the match at 15-15, which left Williams and World No. 87 CoCo Vandeweghe of the Capitals to battle in a winner-take-all women’s singles set.

As Vandeweghe’s final forehand flew long, Williams’ teammates stormed the court to celebrate with the four-time Olympic gold medalist.

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As hundreds of die-hard Washington fans cheered them on from the stands, Paes and Reynolds lifted the 6-foot-1 Williams on their shoulders.

This 2012 season was all about such dramatic comebacks.

The team won five of its 16 matches after entering the final set, either tied or trailing. Perhaps the most dramatic finish of the summer occurred in late July when Williams overcame a six-game deficit against New York, which was the best come-from-behind finish for the team all season.

The Kastles take their winning pose. (Photo by Kevin Koski)

When Paes, Rodionova and Williams were absent for the last four games of the season, preparing for the London Olympics, the team’s record still remained perfect, under the leadership of Coach Murphy Jensen, “the closer” Bobby Reynolds and substitutes Treat Huey and Edina Gallovits-Hall and wild card Raquel Kops-Jones. “The new players fit right into the Kastles culture,” Jensen said. “They know how to win.”

The Kastles have now captured WTT championships in 2009, 2011 and 2012. The Kastles will return to their stadium next summer on the Southwest Waterfront, with the Lakers’ long-standing record undoubtedly in their sights.

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