Part of Mylan World TeamTennis co-founder Billie Jean King’s vision for her revolutionary pro league was an increased emphasis on doubles. Diverging from the sport’s typical measure of individual success, 60% of a Mylan WTT match is decided by men’s, women’s and mixed doubles.
"You have more angles in doubles. You have to have more accuracy and finesse. You think more about the geometry of the court. It’s all about communication and playing as a team,” said King after a match between the Philadelphia Freedoms and Orange County Breakers last weekend.
In a league whose primary focus is team effort, it seems fitting that the 2013 Mylan WTT Finals is decided by the two-time defending champions Washington Kastles and the Springfield Lasers, two teams with the most successful doubles players this season. The women’s doubles set in particular will be a hotly contested affair between 2013 Female MVP Martina Hingis with her partner, Kastles stalwart Anastasia Rodionova and two-time Grand Slam doubles champion Vania King with 2013 Female Rookie of the Year Alisa Kleybanova.
Rodionova, a Russian-born Australian, is playing her fifth season of Mylan WTT this summer, but credits a happy accident with her presence among the illustrious Kastles, with whom she helped to capture the King Trophy last year.
“My sister [Arina] played for the Washington Kastles two years ago and she talked so much about the team and the environment. That’s why I came back last year so I could play on the same team as her. We have a great team and a great record,” Rodionova said, referring to the Kastles’ 34-match winning streak that put them one match ahead of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
Returning this year without her sister, Rodionova expressed disappointment, but is able to see the silver lining in playing doubles with Hingis, a former doubles No. 1 and winner of 10 women’s and mixed doubles Grand Slams.
“It’s great to be on the court with her and not to play against her. She’s one of the best players on the planet. She has so much experience and I think I’ve learned quite a lot from her.”
Hingis is playing her sixth season of Mylan WTT and her first with the Washington Kastles, who remain undefeated this season when the “Swiss Miss” headlines their squad. Ahead of their match against the New York Sportimes earlier this week, Hingis was in good spirits, clearly enjoying the Mylan WTT experience.
“I love it! I always said I was a much better doubles player than singles player,” said Hingis, who recently announced her plans to make a doubles comeback on the WTA Tour beginning in Carlsbad.
The five-time Grand Slam singles champion may have been underselling her singles resumé, but echoed King’s sentiment about the importance of doubles: “I always cared a lot about the team spirit, about my partner. You’re more responsible.”
Rodionova and Hingis have faced some stiff competition over the last three weeks, but are finding their form in a big way, dropping a combined four games in their last two women’s doubles sets. Against the Boston Lobsters on Thursday night, they won an emphatic 5-1 set en route to winning the Mylan WTT Eastern Conference Championships.
“We had a slow start but we’re peaking at the right time. We’re playing better and better each time. We’re finding each other and we know our weaknesses and strengths. We’ve worked on that, that’s why we were able to win our last couple of matches and hopefully we’ll keep it up” Hingis said.
Kleybanova/King lead Hingis/Rodionova 1-0 in their season head-to-head, and the Lasers are the first team to hand the Kastles an at-home loss in over three years. With the momentum on their side, however, the Kastles’ doubles team is hoping to turn things around when it counts for the Mylan WTT Finals on Sunday evening.
When asked the secret to their success thus far, Hingis was candid about her partner, a top 30 doubles player and former Wimbledon mixed doubles finalist:
“She’s got skills!”
2013 MYLAN WTT FINALS presented by GEICO
Springfield Lasers (10-5) vs. #1 WASHINGTON KASTLES (13-2)
July 28, 5:00 p.m. ET -- Kastles Stadium at The Wharf
HOW TO WATCH THE MYLAN WTT FINALS:
TICKETS: Ticket information available at www.WashingtonKastles.com or Ticketmaster
LIVE STREAM: July 28 - 5:00 p.m. ET - www.WTT.com/LIVE
TV: Airs live on Comcast Mid-Atlantic and Mediacom. Tape delayed telecast on Tennis Channel, airing Monday, July 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET. Check www.WTT.com/TV for other airtimes on regional cable networks.