(“Why yes, I AM serious.” Photo by Andrew Riddle via WTT site)
Drama and tensions flared Thursday night during a World Team Tennis matchup between the Washington Kastles and the New York Sportimes, billed on the Kastles’ website as “a heated battle between the two best teams in WTT’s Eastern Conference.” Playing in D.C., the teams included: John McEnroe, Abigail Spears, Christina Fusano and Robert Kendrick for the New York Sportimes (Chuck Adams coaching) and Rennae Stubbs, Leander Paes, Scott Oudsema and Olga Puchkova for the Washington Kastles (Murphy Jensen coaching.)
The Kastles lost in a “three and a half hour slugfest that the packed stadium of rabid Kastles fans in attendance won’t soon forget.”
Speaking of slugfests: It was the inter-team altercation during the Paes/Oudsema vs. McEnroe/Kendrick doubles that made this matchup newsworthy. Is Paes a psychopath or a wily tennis player (or same difference)? Should John McEnroe have stayed the hell out of it? Are Puchkova and Kendrick involved in a tumultuous romance? Was the chair ump frightened by Stubb’s impressive biceps or just a weenie in general? You be the judge. . .
Here’s an “eyewitness account” via Yahoo!Sports:
Kastles player Leander Paes (a five-time Grand Slam doubles winner) came to net and hit an overhead slam that struck Kendrick in the chin. It looked to be a routine incident. But Kendrick took offense and yelled stuff like, “what, no apology?” as Paes walked away. On the very next serve, Kendrick intentionally nailed Paes. Immediately, the Sportime’s coach (Chuck Adams) rose from the bench and started saying “it’s just part of the game.” Adams and McEnroe then crossed the net to the other side of the court to exchange words with Paes. It should be noted that, of the people on the court, McEnroe seemed to be the one playing peacemaker.
During this, Kastles player Olga Puchkova (who was once engaged to Alex Ovechkin, maybe) said something in the direction of Kendrick. He replied by calling her a word that rhymes with “witch”. Puchkova got off the bench in reaction and was assessed a warning. To protest this, Puchkova’s double’s partner Rennae Stubbs tried to explain what provoked Puchkova, but as she approached the umpire, she was assessed with a point penalty for abuse of officials. That gave the Sportimes a 1-0 lead in the subsequent tiebreak. McEnroe didn’t want to take the point and offered to start at 0-0, but they kept the penalty.
Kastles coach Murphy Jensen was furious with the official, claiming that he had lost control of the match. It wasn’t said, but it seemed like he was suggesting that perhaps the official was intimidated by McEnroe’s presence.
Here’s more from the Kastles’ site:
In 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.
(Photo of pissed off Puchkova and lame-ass ump by Kevin Koski via Washington Post)
Here’s some she said/he said/he said via Dan Steinberg’s “D.C. Sports Bog” at the Washington Post:
Rennae Stubbs story via Steinberg:
She said she stood up and began a discussion after the Sportimes coach had cursed at Puchkova, at which point she was issued a warning. Then she went to the chair umpire and tried to explain what had been said, was told to sit down, and was assessed the point penalty for, essentially, not sitting down. She said another official later came to her and said that had been the most unjust point penalty he had ever seen.
Sportimes owner Claude Okin:
“Basically, it was a great match, probably one of the greatest World Team Tennis match ever played, maybe the greatest. All in all, I thought it was a great night. But the incident? Paes went at Kendrick, intentionally hit him with the ball pretty much as hard as he could, and that’s scary. You can hurt somebody that way. Our coach and players defended their teammate verbally, and then Kendrick went back at Leander with his response, and it’s what it is, but it started with Leander going at Robert. We have no idea why he did. Leander said he was gonna do that, he said ‘Somebody’s gonna get hurt out there,’ and then he hit him.
“So we went a little crazy, because we just don’t see that as being a necessary part of the game. But otherwise, by the end of the match, John spoke to Leander, Robert and Leander shook hands at the net, embraced each other, and everybody involved in both teams, from coaches to players to owners, had hugs and handshakes….Really what you saw was the intensity of the rivalry, and that’s what makes World Team Tennis great. Basically I was proud to be part of it.”
Kastles owner Mark Ein:
“It definitely was a great match. We see eye to eye that it was one of the best matches you could ever have, so we agree on that. I think it’s extremely unfortunate and was grossly unfair that we got a point penalty when our player was tagged with a serve, which in the more than 60 combined years that our team has played professional tennis, no one’s ever seen that, ever. One of the cardinal rules of tennis you learn when you’re a little kid is you never cross the net. In every other match that’s an automatic default. For that to happen, and then for us to get a point penalty, which changed the momentum dramatically to start a tiebreaker, that was really unfair and really unfortunate and was a huge mistake by the umpire and everybody else who was part of that decision. It definitely was a great tennis match, and it was a great experience for the fans, but it was unfortunate that the outcome may have been impacted by really bad decision-making.”
The Kastles are protesting the result and asking the WTT for a full investigation.
My take: World Team Tennis suddenly got INTERESTING!
Thanks to Savannah’s World for the Twitter alert!