Venus Williams Returns to Lineup
It was another tough night for the Kastles in New York last night. In their second away match of the season, the six-time WTT champs fell to the Empire in the first of two-back-to-back matches with Kastles superstar and 23-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams back in the lineup, 22-13.
The Kastles were an early season favorite with five-time Grand Slam champion and world #7 Bruno Soares and Wimbledon mixed doubles champion and world #20 Nicole Melichar leading the core roster. But injuries forced Melichar to withdraw from competition this season and sidelined Soares until next week, making it a hard start to the season. The front office has been left scrambling to find last-minute substitutes.
Washington tapped Williams to lead off in New York in mixed doubles, partnering with new Kastles’ sub Nathan Pasha, but the pair started flat against arguably the Empire’s strongest team Neal Skupski and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. The Empire duo came out fast and strong, taking the first set, 5-1, before the Kastles pair could get any rhythm. Williams rallied in the second set with teen phenom Marta Kostyuk in women’s doubles. The Kastles pushed Empire stars Kirsten Flipkens and Martinez Sanchez, but missed a couple crucial deciding points, which swung the set to the Empire, 5-3.
Men’s singles followed with a dominant performance from Empire rookie Ulises Blanch over Kastles rising star Yoshi Nishioka, 5-2, which gave New York a formidable 15-6 lead at half-time.
Williams delivered for Washington in the fourth set with a solid 5-2 victory over Flipkens in women’s singles. The win ignited enthusiasm from the Kastles bench and many in the New York crowd, but fell short of swinging the match in Washington’s favor. Flipkens stole two deciding points in the set to boost the Empire ahead 17-11 heading into the final set.
To keep the match in play for Washington, Nishioka and Pasha needed to win the fifth set to send the match into overtime, but Skupski and Blanch shut down any hopes of a late night comeback with a 5-2 final set victory to seal the match for New York, 22-13.
The Kastles are now 0-4 this season. On Thursday, the team took a loss to the defending WTT champion and first place Springfield Lasers on their home court at the Cooper Tennis Complex. The Kastles fought hard to win 3 out of 5 sets and kept the score tight throughout the match, but the Lasers pulled ahead in the fifth set in men’s doubles to record the win, 21-17.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Kastles Coach Dave Macpherson after the match. “I thought they did amazing. Springfield is a great team, so deep and well coached. Our team came in and really put up a hell of a fight. But Jules [Lasers doubles star Jean-Julien Rojer] was just spectacular in the fifth set. He was the difference maker tonight.”
Tonight, the Kastles get a rematch in DC.
Kostyuk will replace Williams in the lineup. The Kastles teen phenom will take a shot at Flipkens in singles, then team up with new Kastle Kaitlyn Christian in women’s doubles to take on Flipkens and Martinez Sanchez. On the men’s side, Nishioka will get a rematch against Blanch in singles and partner with former All-American Nicholas Monroe against Blanch and Skupski in doubles. Monroe, a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist and WTT veteran, is also expected to pair up with Christian in mixed doubles until Kastles star Bruno Soares returns to the lineup next week. Against New York, the duo will face Skupski and Sanchez.
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