The 45th season of World TeamTennis begins this weekend, and both the league and its players are ready to return to the courts and participate in what will certainly be a unique season.
“We worked extremely hard to try and find the right place to bring all nine of our teams to a safe environment, so we could have our season,” said WTT CEO Carlos Silva on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “I am already here at The Greenbrier and am excited to see all the play, and I am also excited that we have a world-class medical clinic here on site, and The Greenbrier staff has been very helpful. I think we have put up a set of guidelines that are simple, that are smart, and they make sense.”
The season gets underway this Sunday with three matches at The Greenbrier in Sulphur Springs, W.V., including a matchup between the expansion Chicago Smash and Las Vegas Rollers. Headlining the Smash roster will be former US Open champion and American Sloane Stephens.
“I thought the expansion team was just a great opportunity to bring more tennis to Chicago and make it a really fun environment. Obviously, due to COVID, we must adjust, and I think it will still be a great opportunity for people in Chicago to see a fun team,” said Stephens. “I am extremely excited to play for Chicago, and hopefully next year we can play here and bring some excitement.
If you look at the lineups of all the teams, they are stacked, which is amazing. There is going to be a lot of good competition. It is really fast play, so it will be really interesting to see how people play after not playing for a while. I think it will be great competition. Everyone is looking forward to playing and with some of the best players in the world you have to watch, right?”
This season will also mark the return of tennis great Kim Clijsters, who is coming out of retirement this season after a few years away from the tour. Clijsters, a four-time Grand Slam champion, will anchor the New York Empire lineup.
“I am excited that I am able to play some matches in a few days,” said Clijsters. “I think our coach [Luke Jensen] puts a lot of focus on having a lot of fun within the team, both on and off the court, so that works for me. I am looking forward to joining the team, and everyone getting together to practice hard and support each other through tough matches.”
Clijsters says her training has really picked up in recent weeks, and the 37-year-old Belgian is ready to get her comeback going.
“The last three weeks, the intensity has definitely gone up. I think after Indian Wells got cancelled, I came home to New Jersey and waited to see what was going to happen with the Miami tournament,” said Clijsters. “And then we were stuck here for a good month, month-and-a-half. So then the first few weeks, I just took some off to let a few little injuries heal and then we were able to fly back to Belgium, started training there. The last three weeks have been working hard and getting used to the hot weather here. Just slowly working your way into getting match ready and working on the things that have to improve still.”
With the players ready to go, the sports world only needs to wait a couple more days to watch live professional tennis. All matches will be televised or streamed on CBS, CBS Sports Network, Tennis Channel or ESPN. Some matches will be available on ESPN+, Facebook Watch or WTT.com.
WTT has installed a multitude of precautions and protocols to make sure the season is played in a safe manner, both for the players and staff, as well as the limited number of fans who will be in the stands for each match. All players on the bench will be required to wear masks, only those on court will be without, and there will be no ball kids on the court.
“If your teammates would like to be ball kids, they can and they’ll be wearing masks,” added Silva. “It’s kind of interesting and could be a fun time when things aren’t always that fun this year. It could be great having the Bryan Brothers being ball kids for Sam Querrey when he’s playing.”
In regards to the fans in the stands, Silva said:
“We’ll be allowed to have 500 fans in the stands, although the stadium holds 2,500 people. Every other row will be blocked, and everyone will be socially distanced by the ushers. You will be able to sit by your family, but you will not be able to sit next to other families that you don’t know. Originally, because it is outdoors, we did not require fans to wear masks. We’ve since changed that requirement, well before everyone else did, about 10 days ago. We made a decision that we would make all fans also have to wear masks. That is a requirement to enter the stadium…If someone doesn’t want to wear a mask, that’s ok, they don’t have to come into the stadium. If they want a refund on their ticket, we would be happy to give them a refund.”
This season will be one of the most unique in the 45-year history of WTT, and it begins this Sunday with three matches. The Orlando Storm will take on the Springfield Lasers in the season’s opening match, followed by the Smash facing off with the Rollers. To cap off the opening day of matches, the Orange County Breakers meet the San Diego Aviators.
The New York Empire will make its season debut against the Washington Kastles on Monday, July 13.