The 40th season of Mylan World TeamTennis treated fans to a celebration of the past, present, and future of Billie Jean King’s professional league, a season that positioned Mylan WTT as only the fifth U.S. professional sports league (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA) to reach such an impressive four-decade milestone. But while six Mylan WTT teams gave fans across the country something to shout for throughout the summer, one continues to stand above the rest.
Winning a record-breaking fifth consecutive Mylan WTT title, the Washington Kastles -owned by Venturehouse Group Founder and CEO Mark Ein - lived up to their motto and refused to lose, or even loosen the dominant grip they’ve held over the league since forming in 2008.
Now having matched the major leagues in longevity, Mylan WTT can now boast a bona fide dynasty, one that, with six titles in seven years, might yet meet the record of eight straight championship titles set by Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics (1959-66), or top the five consecutive crowns won by the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens (1956-60) and MLB’s New York Yankees (1949-53).
Led by three-time Mylan WTT Coach of the Year Murphy Jensen and veterans like team captain and 2015 Australian and Wimbledon mixed doubles champion Leander Paes, former No. 1 Martina Hingis, and 2015 Mylan WTT Female Co-MVP Anastasia Rodionova, the Kastles capped another successful season by maintaining a perfect playoffs record (12-0 since 2009)and finishing the league’s 40th season as champion.
Paes has been on each of the Kastles’ championship rosters, making him present for all of the team’s major milestones. Their second King Trophy in 2011 was won on the back of the first perfect season in Mylan WTT history (16-0). Washington repeated the feat one year later and in 2013 set the major pro sports league record for consecutive victories at 34, surpassing the NBA’s 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.
“Winning a single championship in any league is a huge accomplishment and that is even more the case in WTT where the format encourages close matches that turn on a couple of points,” Ein said on Monday. “It is still hard to believe that we have won five titles in a row, but this record is a tribute to our incredible players and the power of individuals getting inspired by playing for something bigger than themselves.”
“I mean, it’s a dream come true, it really is,” Coach Jensen said after the match. “It’s so different, you’d think it’d get old hat, but it doesn’t because we’ve got such great chemistry.”
Cohesion has been one of the Kastles’ biggest strengths throughout their six title runs, yet it was something that seemed in jeopardy to start, as they were forced to begin without former League and Finals MVP, Bobby Reynolds, who had retired after leading the Kastles to a fourth straight King Trophy in 2014.
With Hingis, Paes, and Rodionova, Reynolds completed a core four that rivaled the New York Yankees. Reynolds, the 2010 Rookie of the Year, led the Kastles through the first four legs of their five-year dynasty.
“I loved the team atmosphere and the format,” said Reynolds. “I went to college for three years and it was the greatest feeling, being part of a team. There’s a plan for everything -- a reason that I’ve been fortunate to play for Mark the past five years."
For years, Reynolds was the Kastles’ closer, perennially last up in each of Washington’s home matches before switching to the team’s opening talent in his final season.
“Bobby was there for so long and did such a great job; you’re not going to replace him,” said Sam Querrey, a Mylan WTT veteran who, along with Denis Kudla, stepped in for Reynolds in men’s singles and doubles.
Joined by Madison Brengle, this American trio didn’t take long to gel with the Kastles’ remaining line-up, and the team proved to once again be a well-oiled machine.
“It was a bigger challenge because players were coming and going during the season,” Jensen admitted. “But to get them all to perform the way they did against an extremely tough team - to go out and blow them out, says a lot about out our organization.”
Keeping things organized is Paes, the Kastles captain and the 2015 Finals MVP; the 16-time Grand Slam doubles champion came roaring out of the box on Sunday against the Austin Aces, a team who had beaten the Kastles twice during the regular season.
“I’ve got a big ‘C’ on my shirt as captain, so I’ve got to get out on the court and do my business,” Paes said after winning both sets of doubles (men’s with Querrey and mixed with Hingis).
“I love coming in at the beginning of the night and just playing my heart out, playing for the fans, and setting the tone for the team. I was able to do that in the semifinals and I was able to do that again in the Finals. These are the stages that I kind of live for and through the whole season to do it night in and night out is something that I take pride in.”
Backing up Paes in mixed and women’s doubles was Hingis, who helped cement the Kastles’ historic streak in 2013, and was instrumental in leading the Kastles back to the play-offs -- the team was undefeated with the Swiss Miss on their squad.
“Playing with Leander is always a thrill because we’re just coming off the Australian Open victory and recently Wimbledon,” said Hingis, who also captured the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon with Sania Mirza. “We just know each other’s games so well, and it’s like we click right when we have to.
“It’s been the same with Anastasia the last couple of years, as well; we can rely on each other’s shots and know what to do on the court.”
Rodionova first appreciated the Kastles atmosphere from afar, watching younger sister Arina lead the Kastles to 2011’s perfect season.
“I sat on the bench and I just came to watch my sister play, but I told her and [Kastles owner] Mark Ein that if I’m ever going to be back playing WTT, that’s the only team I’m going to be playing for” said the Aussie, who recently earned her first Mylan WTT post-season award as Female Co-MVP.
“The atmosphere was great; I think that first match [I was at] was actually sold out, and the fans were amazing. But it’s not only about the crowd; it’s also how players interact with each other and you really have that team environment on the bench. That felt really good and I wanted to try it myself.”
Leading the Aces after four sets, it all came down to Brengle -- a Kastles rookie -- to take on Reynolds’ role and to fight off a game challenge from WTA rising star Elina Svitolina in the final set of women’s singles.
“It was so exciting,” Brengle said after hitting one last backhand winner to end Extended Play. “I had an amazing time out there and my team was awesome.”
The American is in the midst of her best-ever WTA season, but the Mylan WTT veteran believes not much can match the feeling of playing for the best team to have ever competed for the King Trophy.
“The thing that I’ve noticed about this compared to the other years that I’ve played is that this kind of team is different -- every step of the way, win or lose, they’re really supportive and really positive. I’ve just enjoyed every minute of it.”
In the meantime, Paes looks forward to more successful seasons with the Washington Kastles.
“It’s a great honor to come into the city of Washington, DC and play in front of our home fans and entertain them and play for the city, play for the community.
“At the end of the day we play as a unit; we go out there every single day and work hard as a team. Any night they can take one of us out, but they aren’t getting all five of us; we go out there and play with heart."
2011-2015: A LOOK AT THE KASTLES DYNASTY –
• Made their debut in 2008 and finished the regular season 6-8 and missed the playoffs.
• Won their first league championship in 2009, defeating the Springfield Lasers 23-20.
• In 2011, the Washington Kastles completed the first undefeated season in WTT history (16-0), and won their 2nd WTT Championship with a victory over St. Louis Aces.
• One year later, the Kastles did it again. Led by Venus Williams, Washington edged Sacramento in the 2012 Finals to complete their second undefeated season and hoist the King Trophy for the third time in franchise history.
• Before winning their 3rd consecutive and 4th overall championship in 2013, the Kastles became the first league champion to be invited to the White House to meet with the President.
• Washington also rewrote the sports record books during the 2013 season by setting the mark of 34 consecutive wins (2011-2013), the longest streak in major pro sports league history. The previous mark of 33 consecutive wins was held by the NBA's 1971-72 Lakers.
• In 2015, the Kastles set a league record of five consecutive championship titles (2011-15) surpassing the record they shared with the Sacramento Capitals (1997-2000). They also tied Sacramento’s record of six league championships.
White House photo by Pete Souza; final photo by Willis Bretz. Rest by CameraworkUSA.