Sandwiched between the end of Wimbledon and the start of the Olympics, trying to fit between the US Open series and the attention of other sports for the casual fan, the 37th season of World TeamTennis presented by Geico, the brainchild of Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss, will begin anew this coming week with eight franchises, a rigorous July schedule, the usual smattering of top star talent and lots of fun.
Constantly battling for attention throughout its history, WTT continues to engage fans with the team concept that is all about fan engagement and innovation in the game, something that King has preached throughout her storied career.
With outposts from Southern California to Kansas City, Mo., New York, Boston and Washington among other stops, WTT will again look to bring in casual fans to show how much fun the professional team side of tennis can be.
Part of that all access is a new app for fans to get the latest information as well as live streaming of select matches for the first time, bringing fans closer to the top pros on their biggest WTT nights than ever before.
The live streaming on WTT.com will start when the Washington Kastles visit Lindsay Davenport and the Orange County Breakers on July 9, and will have other key matches throughout the month, including John Isner and the Boston Lobsters against the Philly Freedoms on July 23 and the special New York Sportimes-Lobsters matchup between John McEnroe and Andre Agassi from Randall’s Island on July 19.
The streaming will be a new complement to the over 200 hours of televised action the league will have throughout the month on outlets like The Tennis Channel, MSG Network and Comcast Sports Net.
"One of the assets of World TeamTennis is that we are content rich, with multiple matches in different cities on the same night," said WTT CEO/Commissioner Kloss. "We will now be able to share more of our content by showcasing the WTT Match of the Night to stream live to existing fans as well as introduce new fans to the WTT brand of tennis.
"Access has always been an important part of World TeamTennis and our live streaming initiative opens up WTT to an even greater audience."
The access and the unique rules of WTT has never been lost on the players, many of whom look to the League as a welcome and fun change of pace from the grind of the ATP and WTA schedules.
“I think tennis always needs change, and what Billie Jean has done for the sport with WTT makes a lot of sense, I just wish there was a way with the powers that be to make it more of the schedule not less, it is fun to play and great access for the fans,” said McEnroe.
He is coming back to lead the Sportimes (along with Martina Hingis) with home matches both at the $19 million SPORTIME Complex and Randall’s Island and in the Capitol District just outside Albany, N.Y., where the format has long done well.
McEnroe’s matchup on the 19th with Agassi will take on added significance as a fundraiser for the Johnny Mac Tennis Project, with all proceeds going towards McEnroe’s thriving New York Academy.
Johnny Mac is not alone in looking forward to the 2012 season. The Bryan Brothers, who later this summer will head back to Wimbledon to play for Team USA in the Olympics, also have carved time from a very busy schedule to play for the Kansas City Explorers this July.
“It's exciting It's a different type of pressure,” Bob Bryan added. “You are playing for your team, your owner, your city. We love playing for a team; we're team guys.”
Their first match for K.C. will be July 16 at DuPont Pavilion in Philadelphia against the home standing Freedoms. Hingis, who has become a WTT regular despite a busy endorsement and seniors tour schedule, also chipped in with her love for WTT, which she returns to also as part of the Sportimes.
“I just love the team spirit. TeamTennis is so unique,” she added. “Being an individual in tennis all my career, I love playing doubles. It reminds me of that, plus playing mixed and being part of a team. Every point, every game counts. It's different from every other part of the sport.”
Also returning to WTT this season for the Washington Kastles will be Wimbledon Champion Serena Williams and sister Venus, as well as popular Americans James Blake (Boston), Mardy Fish and Sam Querry (Sacramento).
The tough Olympic schedule has curtailed the WTT playing time for a few London-bound regulars, but Isner will make one appearance for his Lobsters before resuming training for Team USA in preparation for London.
Overall, the eight co-ed teams will have over 60 professional players from 13 countries, all playing for a chance to take the title King Trophy from the Kastles, coached by Murphy Jensen, when the finals take place at the Family Circle Tennis Center in Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 16.
The co-ed format, the on-court coaching, the five-set matches, the unique overtime system and most of all the minute by minute fan interaction are what set WTT apart as it has from the start, and what will make Season 37 just as fun and engaging as every summer has been since its founding.
A different kind of tennis for sure, but one with lots of fun and innovation, which is what its founder has preached from the beginning.
Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.
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