World Team Tennis – Hope Springs Eternal in Sulphur Springs

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Bill Simons

Everybody knows World TeamTennis is unique. The league is all about passion and inclusivity. Its creativity and flair are baked in. And it’s entrepreneurial to the max.

America’s league, that once drew McEnroe, Connors, Chrissie and Martina, is nothing if not a survivor. It was founded by a tireless pioneer who was light on her feet. Everyone knows Billie Jean King. Now it’s run by an entrepreneur you may not have heard of, Carlos Silva, who’s also light on his feet.

Last year Silva gave the league a jolt of executive skill. The WTT surged. Then COVID-19 kicked tennis in the gut. Everyone figured that the nine-team league, which traditionally crisscrosses the country over three summer weeks, was toast. Some advised, “Just cancel the season. Hit delete.” Silva had other ideas.

Sure, he knew a season that required travel to far-flung cities was a non-starter. But that’s not in WTT’s DNA. The league has survived economic downturns, full-throated critics, well-endowed rivals and a scam artist or two.

But it’s never lacked determination. There’s good reason that sages tell us necessity is the mother of invention. So Silva spoke to everyone: team owners, governors, mayors, promoters, health officials and all the stakeholders. And, poof – he conceived the idea of each of the league’s nine teams playing their 14 matches at one site over a 17-day season. Wow!

Silva considered Vegas, La Costa, Austin, Lake Nona and Jacksonville.  But one option stood out. The league that spits in the eye of tradition would descend on one of the grandest traditional sites in the American game: West Virginia’s Greenbrier Resort. His vision was simple: hope would spring eternal in White Sulphur Springs.

So on July 12, deep in the Appalachians, after four months of solitude, a hefty portion of the tennis tribe will gather. Like baseball’s spring training camps, WTT will celebrate renewal, as many play their way into shape. There will be more than a hint of the team camaraderie of the Davis and Laver Cups and “we’re all in this together” spirit of an Olympic Village. Veteran Slam champs and eager prospects will play the entire season and hang out in a gorgeous, spacious and remote haven some call “America’s resort.”

There will be stringent COVID-19 protocols. Still, 500 socially-distanced, masked fans will attend each of the three daily matches in Greenbrier’s horseshoe-shaped, mountainside stadium that normally seats 2,500.

Most of all, the WTT will have its best lineup in memory. Jack Sock and beloved “Mother Tennis,” Kim Clijsters, will lead the New York Empire, along with coach Luke Jensen, who last year revealed his goal was to have the Empire “lead the league in fun.”

The Orange County Breakers will be led by local fave Stevie Johnson and everyone’s favorite “Leach from the beach,” Rick Leach. The new team on the block, the Chicago Smash, led by former US Open champ Sloane Stephens and the magical maiden of Montreal, Genie Bouchard, won’t be lacking charisma. Nor will the San Diego Aviators, with former No. 9 Coco Vandeweghe and Ryan Harrison. Tennys Sandgren will stir things up for the Orlando Storm and the Washington Kastles will try to renew their tennis dynasty with the legendary Venus Williams. The Philadelphia Freedoms will be headed by an old Young, that would be Donald Young, and a young Grand Slam champ, reigning Aussie queen Sofia Kenin.

All the while, the low profile Springfield Lasers will be defending their title and trying to three-peat. But watch out if the Vegas Rollers get on a roll. At their table will be Sam Querrey, social media wiz Kristie Ahn and Bob and Mike Bryan. Playing in their 22nd season and brimming with belief, the twins didn’t hesitate to offer some unfiltered WTT kudos: “This is going to be an incredible training ground…The league has really made players feel loved. We feel we’re in this together. It’s like a family. By the end of the three weeks we’re going to be willing to die for them.”

The WTT semis will be August 1 and the final will be August 2. All 66 of WTT’s matches will be covered by a range of media: CBS Sports, ESPN, the Tennis Channel and Facebook. There will be a $1 million payoff for the four playoff teams. Tickets are available at WTTTickets.com.

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