The New York Empire presented by Citi moved one step closer to a World TeamTennis playoff berth with a clutch 22-19 victory over the Springfield (Mo.) Lasers on Monday night at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis & Learning in The Bronx. With the win, the Empire moves into a three-way tie for second place with the Empire, Lasers and San Diego Aviators all sitting at 7-5.
The WTT Playoffs are contested among WTT’s top four teams from the regular season Aug. 2-3 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
The Empire concludes its regular season with a home-and-home series against the league-leading Philadelphia Freedoms on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
The Empire’s roster was boosted for the final two home matches with the addition of nine-year WTT veteran and United States Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish, and his presence was immediately felt in the opening set of men’s singles. In a back-and-forth slugfest with the Lasers’ Enrique Lopez Perez, the set could hardly be decided.
With the score tied at four games apiece, the set would come down to one point as the tiebreak was also knotted at four. With Lopez Perez serving, Fish started off the point on the back foot but was able to hit a miraculous running forehand winner that decided the set and energized the hometown Empire fans.
“We hadn’t started with singles all season but tonight it was a ‘Mardy party’ so we decided to start with him and it really paid off,” said Jensen of his decision to switch up the order of the lineup. “We will have to be even better tomorrow night because the number one team in the league is coming here.”
The women’s doubles team of Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and the newly-signed Varvara Lepchenko rode the momentum into the second set, as the two lefties outplayed the Lasers’ Olga Govortsova and Abigail Spears and took the set 5-3.
The third set saw the Empire’s doubles specialist Neal Skupski paired with Fish facing off against Robert Lindstedt and Lopez Perez. With the Lasers pair playing excellent tennis and making it difficult for the Empire to gain much traction in the set, Skupski and Fish did well to grind out three games and keep New York’s lead intact heading into the fourth set. After three sets, the Empire led 13-12.
Taking the court in the fourth set was the Empire’s Lepchenko, who was signed over the weekend to replace Kirsten Flipkens for the final three matches of the regular season, matching up with Govortsova. With the intensity of the match palpable with playoff spots on the line, the theme of tightly contested sets continued as the two players traded momentum swings over the course of the set. Tied at 4-4, another tiebreaker ensued but this time it was the Lasers who came out on top, taking the set 5-4 and evening the overall match score at 17-17 heading into the decisive final set.
Empire head coach Luke Jensen saved the WTT’s best mixed doubles team in 2019 Australian Open mixed doubles semifinalists Skupski and Martinez Sanchez for last, in a strategic decision that would pay off immensely. Skupski and Martinez Sanchez thoroughly dominated the Lasers’ duo of Lindstedt and Spears, winning the set 5-2 and clinching the 22-19 win.
“In the end, I think we solved tonight with the mixed doubles,” said Martinez Sanchez after the match. “Neal and I have been playing in the Grand Slams in mixed doubles, so we are getting used to playing with each other. I love to play with him because he puts the power, and I have the hands, so it’s good.”
►Men’s Singles: Fish (NYE) def. Lopez Perez (SPR), 5-4
►Women’s Doubles: Lepchenko/Martinez Sanchez (NYE) def. Govortsova/Spears (SPR), 5-3
►Men’s Doubles: Lindstedt/Lopez Perez (SPR) def. Fish/Skupski (NYE), 5-3
►Women’s Singles: Govortsova (SPR) def. Lepchenko (NYE), 5-4
►Mixed Doubles: Skupski/Martinez Sanchez (NYE) def. Lindstedt/Spears (SPR), 5-2
The Empire return to the Cary Leeds Center for its final home match of the 2019 WTT season tomorrow night, July 30 at 6:30 p.m. ET against the Philadelphia Freedoms. Nine-year WTT veteran and United States Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish returns for his second straight match with the Empire.
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