| By Brian Coleman
Photo Credit: Sidney Beal III

The New York Empire hung on to defeat the Springfield Lasers 21-18 on Monday night as Marcus Willis led a spirited comeback in the match’s final set to clinch the win and keep the Empire’s chances of reaching the Mylan World TeamTennis finals alive.  

Willis stared down three break points while trailing Benjamin Becker 1-3 in the final set on Monday, but did well to erase those and hold serve to put the Empire up 18-17 in the overall match score. A few games later, Willis saved a match point and force the set into a tiebreaker with the Empire leading 20-18.

“I was focused, and I had to adjust my serve a lot,” said Willis of how he turned things around. “It was very different conditions to last night—it’s a lot slower today. I was double-faulting more than I wanted to, but it’s a case of changing up while you go along. You can’t keep making the same mistakes. I started serving a lot better and hitting my groundstrokes a lot better. I just stayed focused and believed I could win.”

In World TeamTennis rules, if the losing team wins the final set, the match heads into a super-tiebreaker to determine the outcome. Willis made sure that wouldn’t happen in his tiebreaker, jumping out to a 2-0 lead thanks to some big serving, going on to win it 5-2 to clinch the Empire victory.

“I’m very, very aware, maybe too aware,” Willis said of knowing the overall team score while out on the court. “You just have to get out there and play one point at a time, and the scoreboard looks after itself.”

Willis helped give the Empire the early lead as he paired with Neal Skupski to beat Becker and Nicolaas Scholtz 5-2 in the Men’s Doubles Set. Skupski would then help bolster that lead, teaming with Kirsten Flipkens to beat Becker and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 5-2 in Mixed Doubles.

But Sorana Cirstea defeated Flipkens 5-2 in Women’s Singles to set up the decisive showdown at Men’s Singles to wrap things up.

“That’s what we did yesterday and it worked really well,” New York Empire coach Gigi Fernandez said of the decision to play the three doubles matches first. “It was a little closer in the end, but Marcus pulled it out. We were within one point of having our season done, twice actually. It was a great effort and a great win.”

The NY Empire will travel to Springfield, Missouri on Tuesday night for its season finale in a rematch against the Lasers. 

Brian Coleman

 Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com