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Tensions Flare Against Sportimes: Kastles Lose Heartbreaker In Supertiebreaker
In a heated battle between the two best teams in the WTT's Eastern Conference, the Washington Kastles fell just two points short of beating John McEnroe and the first-place New York Sportimes, as they lost 7-5 in a supertiebreaker. The loss broke a five-match winning streak for the Kastles.
On paper, the match had everything a team tennis fan could hope for: the two top teams in the East, New York vs. Washington D.C., Grand Slam champions on both sides of the net and McEnroe, the controversial and outspoken legend. In the end, the match greatly exceeded these high expectations - it was a three and a half hour slugfest that packed stadium of rabid Kastles fans in attendance won't soon forget.
As would be expected of a competition with such high stakes, the match was hotly competitive throughout and full of streaks and comebacks. Olga Puchkova kicked things off for the Kastles, taking on the Sportimes' Abigail Spears in the opening women's singles set. Puchkova was on her game, but Spears, who has the fourth-best women's singles record in the WTT this season, was too tough and narrowly edged out the young Russian by a score of 5-3. 
From there, the Kastles (5-5) turned to their women's doubles team of Puchkova and Grand Slam winner Rennae Stubbs to take on the Sportimes (8-2) team of Spears and Christina Fusano.  Stubbs and Puchkova were the superior team, showing excellent chemistry and teamwork in defeating their opponents 5-2, giving the Kastles an 8-7 lead after two events.
Next up was men's doubles, where things got even more interesting, as they so often do when McEnroe is involved. The event got off to an exciting start--Paes wowed the crowd with a spectacular lob over both his opponents' heads--but the heated competition was just getting startedIn the eighth game of the event, with the Kastles' Leander Paes and Scott Oudsema leading McEnroe and partner Robert Kendrick 4-3, tempers flared, bringing the nearly sold-out crowd to its feet. During this critical game with the Kastles up 12-10, Paes hit Kendrick with a volley at the net, a standard doubles occurence, but the crowd was stunned as Kendrick tagged Paes, who was not the receiver, with a first serve a few points later.McEnroe and New York coach Chuck Adams crossed the net to exchange verbal volleys with Paes, and received a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct.  The Kastles' bench joined the fray after the Sportimes tied the set at 4-4 with Olga Puchkova and Rennae Stubbs both being issued code violations and a point penalty for abuse of officials. This was a major turning point in the match as the Kastles had a service point taken away and started 1-0 in the set tiebreaker.  The Sportimes carried the momentum to an easy tiebreakers win (5-1) and a 5-4 set win to tie the match at 12-12 going into halftime.
After halftime, McEnroe once again took the court, this time to take on Oudsema in men's singles. McEnroe, a 16-time Grand Slam winner, showed he still has what it takes to perform at a top level, playing a crafty game against the powerful Oudsema to win 5-2.
Although his team was down three games going into the final event, the Kastles fans kept the faith with their mixed doubles dream team of Paes and Stubbs, who have by far the best record of any team in that event this season, playing the fifth set. True to form, the twosome dominated throughout, beating the Sportimes' Kendrick and Spears 5-2 to send the game into a decidingSupertiebreaker.  With momentum at their backs, the Kastles jumped to a quick 3-1 lead but eventually lost 7-5 in a Supertiebreaker full of dramatic exchanges and spectacular shotmaking.  It was a match that all fans in attendance will remember and talk about for years to come.
Next up for the Kastles is a matchup with the Kansas City Explorers, Saturday in Kansas City. The match begins at 7:35 p.m. Eastern time.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Riddle
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