The Washington Kastles were looking to begin the 40th season of Mylan World TeamTennis in their typically dominant style, but after five hard-fought sets, the five-time Mylan WTT champions lost just their third home match in four years.
At the Kastles Stadium at the Smith Center and playing his second match of the season, Virginia-native Denis Kudla began proceedings in emphatic style, nabbing the first break of the men’s singles set against Teymuraz Gabashvili. Both Kudla and Gabashvili have reached the second weeks of major tournaments this year, and it was the Russian who saved a set point to break back to level the set. Kudla ultimately held his nerve in the ensuing tiebreak and put the Kastles ahead — just in time for women’s doubles and season debut of former No. 1, Venus Williams.
Williams is playing her 11th season of Mylan WTT, but struggled early with partner Anastasia Rodionova. The Kastles faced Nicole Gibbs and former Kastles substitute Alla Kudryavtseva — who reached the WTA Finals in doubles with Rodionova in 2014. The American/Russian duo won their first set together on Tuesday and were completely in sync Tuesday night en route to a 5-1 victory.
Kudla returned next in the hopes of righting the ship in men’s doubles; at his side was Wimbledon mixed doubles champ, Leander Paes. Across the net was Gabashvili and Jarmere Jenkins, who roared out to a 4-1 lead — holding four set points in the next two games. From there, the Kastles applied their #RefuseToLose mantra to the max, saving all four and pegging the Aces back to 4-3. Ultimately, Jenkins was able to finish the set on serve before halftime, but the Kastles were able to keep it close.
Emerging from the break was Williams, who traded tense service games with Gibbs before finding her form in the final exchanges. Serving for the set, the five-time Wimbledon champion put on a vintage serving display, attacking the net with aplomb and overpowering her young opponent to reduce the overall deficit to three games.
Williams partnered with Paes for mixed doubles against Kudryavtseva and Gabashvili, both Mylan WTT rookies. The powerful Russians surged to a 3-1 advantage, but the Kastles looked poise to take advantage of the Aces’ inexperience when a would-be Kudryavtseva ace was called out. Calming down during a GIECO Timeout, the Aces served their way to the biggest upset of the season.
The Kastles will have to regroup quickly on Wednesday as they head to Springfield to face the Lasers, while the undefeated Austin Aces return home to a hero’s welcome as they host the California Dream.