In a virtual repeat of their meeting on July 12th, the Washington Kastles and New York Sportimes matched each other shot for shot until the very last point of a men's doubles Supertiebreaker on Tuesday.
With an undefeated season on the line for the Kastles, and a playoff berth at stake for the Sportimes, everything came down to one serve from Washington's Bobby Reynolds.
The "Kardiac Kastles" came through in the clutch once again when Reynolds made a big first serve and his teammate Leander Paes took the pace off of Jesse Witten's return, carving an unreturnable, short-angled backhand volley to win the Supertiebreaker 7-6 and the match 21-20.
Washington improved to 12-0 on the season in the first of back-to-back road matches against the Sportimes. The teams played in Albany on Tuesday before traveling to Randall's Island for tonight's encounter, which will air live on Tennis Channel and WashingtonKastles.com
at 7 pm.
The Kastles have now won five of their 12 matches this season by one game, and three in a Supertiebreaker.
Before the dramatic conclusion, the story going into the match surrounded Serena Williams, whose arrival in Albany was six hours later than anticipated because of weather delays.
To give Serena time to warm up on another court, Coach Murphy Jensen had decided to use Rennae Stubbs for the first set of mixed doubles. But upon her arrival, Serena insisted that she play.
The 13-time Grand Slam singles champion went straight onto the match court with her only practice of the day coming during the three-minute warm-up for the opening set.
She and Paes started slowly, losing the first three games of mixed doubles against Martina Hingis and Travis Parrott. But Serena's level rose dramatically from there.
After holding for 1-3, Serena crushed a crosscourt forehand winner on the first point of Parrott's service game. Paes ended the game with a knifing backhand volley, breaking Parrott to draw the Kastles to 2-3.
The Kastles tied the score at 3-3 when Serena hit a scintillating series of shots from the net, dropping a backhand volley short, hitting an overhead and then putting away her third volley of the rally down the line.
After holds by Hingis and Serena, the set went to a tiebreak. With the Sportimes winning the first two points on Parrott's serve, all they needed was one break of Paes to wrap the tiebreak up. The Sportimes secured the set 5-4(1) with two volley winners by Hingis, who rushed the net behind her serves.
There was no rest for the weary in the second set as Serena stayed on the court for women's doubles, teaming with Stubbs against Hingis and Katie O'Brien.
Serena held serve to open the event before the Kastles capitalized on two double faults from O'Brien to take a 2-0 lead. Strong serving by Stubbs allowed Washington to open up a 3-0 advantage.
Hingis got New York on the board in the following game, winning a 3-all point with a strong overhead that Stubbs nearly retrieved.
The set stayed on serve from that moment on, with Stubbs closing out a 5-2 win.
With the Kastles ahead 9-7 in the match, Reynolds got just the start he wanted in men's singles. In the opening game, he won all three points on Witten's second serve to break.
But Witten would not go away easily. After holds by both men, the Sportime earned three break points with Reynolds serving at 1-2. The Kastle hit big serves to save all three and hold for 3-1.
Reynolds faced another break point at 3-2, and again he responded well to the pressure, hitting a backhand winner to take a 4-2 lead in the set and make the match score 13-9 in favor of Washington.
The Kastles appeared poised to take a sizable lead into halftime. Witten, however, continued to claw his way back. He held for 3-4, and then finally broke Reynolds on his fifth chance of the set when the Kastle found the top of the tape on a groundstroke.
The former Kentucky Wildcat Witten opened up a 4-1 lead in the tiebreak, earning four set points along the way. But he double faulted on the first set point and the ex-Vanderbilt Commodore Reynolds hit two more timely serves to even the tiebreak at 4-4.
The 4-4 point of a tiebreak serves as the last point of a set, and in this case it would result in either a three-game lead or a one-game lead for Washington at halftime. When Reynolds committed an uncharacteristic unforced error, the Sportimes went into the half trailing 13-12.
After trading shots in mixed and women's doubles, Serena and Hingis met in a much-anticipated fourth set between former world No. 1s.
Serena held serve in the first game, highlighted by a backhand winner off an impressive retrieval of one of Hingis' drop shots. She hit another running crosscourt backhand winner to break Hingis for 2-0, before a string of Serena backhand errors allowed Hingis to break back in the next game.
The contrast of styles between the powerful Kastle and smooth Sportime showed throughout the set: Hingis setting points up with well-placed shots and Serena using strong serves and deep groundstrokes to gain control of rallies.
With Serena leading 4-3 and Hingis serving at 2-2 in the game, the Swiss star approached the net with a down-the-line forehand, only to watch as the Kastle hit a third sharply-angled crosscourt backhand pass for a winner, bringing the Albany crowd of 2,215 to its feet.
Now holding a set point, Serena outmuscled Hingis to force an error, taking the set 5-3 and giving Washington an 18-15 lead going into the final set.
It was an amazing performance by Serena given the circumstances. She won 14 games in three sets despite the flight delays that limited her practice to only pre-set warm-ups all day long.
Leading by three, the Kastles seemed to be in good hands with Reynolds and Paes closing the match against Witten and Parrott.
But momentum shifted dramatically when Witten mishit a volley that dribbled over the net for a winner, clinching a 3-all point, giving the Sportimes a 2-1 lead, and scuttling an early break chance for the Kastles that had seemed secure.
Paes was broken immediately thereafter, and Parrott held for 4-1 to tie the match score at 19-19. Suddenly, Reynolds served to keep the Kastles in the match and preserve their undefeated season.
That was no problem for Reynolds, whose unnerving play in the late stages of matches has earned him recognition as the heartbeat of the "Kardiac Kastles". Reynolds held at love to put Washington back in front 20-19.
When Witten closed the set out in the next game, however, the Sportimes and Kastles were right back where they were one week earlier: in a men's doubles Supertiebreaker.
The Kastles got the early break off of Parrott's serve to take a 3-1 lead, but gave it back when Reynolds pushed a volley wide.
With the order of serve mirroring their first Supertiebreaker, Parrott served twice at 4-4, with Reynolds due to serve three times thereafter.
On July 12th, Parrott won his two service points to give New York three match points. This time around, he lost 4-4 by missing an overhead off of a deep Reynolds lob and lost 4-5 when Paes hit a swinging volley out of reach.
That set Reynolds up to serve with three match points. He'd need them all.
Parrott and Witten hit back-to-back flat returns at the bodies of the Kastles, forcing them into volley errors that made the Supertiebreaker score 6-6. The winners of the next point would claim victory for their team.
Serving to Witten in the ad-court on the deciding point, Reynolds took a little pace off his first serve and added some spin. Witten returned with an inside-out forehand, which Paes crossed to intercept, dropping a crosscourt volley short in the court.
Witten scrambled to get his racquet on the ball and succeeded. But his desperation attempt failed when the ball flew long, clinching yet another heart-stopping victory for the Kastles.
With two regular-season matches remaining before the playoffs, the undefeated Kastles have shown that "Refuse to Lose" isn't just a slogan on a sign. It's the truth.
They really do refuse to lose.