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By Christopher Lancette

Good chemistry. It’s something that every team in every sport talks about. Ample supplies of the highly sought elixir propels some franchises toward championships while its absence flushes others down the drain.

The Washington Kastles completed a perfect season and won the World Team Tennis championship in the wee hours of the Charleston, South Carolina morning on July 25 because they were swimming in it.

Evidence of good chemistry could be found in every nook and cranny of Washington’s season. On finals night against the St. Louis Aces, Leander Paes followed a Kastles tradition by pretending to shine WTT rookie-of-the-year Arina Rodionova’s shoes after she pulled off a comeback victory in her women’s singles set. (She beat No. 42 Tamira Paszek.) Paes also provided Bobby Reynolds with gulps of energy drinks as he labored to close out the match at about 1 a.m.

The team even quickly forgave coach Murphy Jensen after he cost the Kastles a potentially match-changing point by accidentally tossing a bottle of water on the court as he jumped into the air on what he wrongly thought was a match-ending Reynolds winner.

The Kastles expressed their fondness for Jensen a few nights earlier – signing his bald head in the autograph session following their final regular season victory.

Coach and players alike also genuinely care about team owner Mike Ein.

“We’re all a mix of individuals yet Mark and Murphy have brought us all together,” co-captain Paes said after one of the team’s dramatic home match victories. “This is wonderful. There’s a magical energy about this team.”

“Magic” was a word that came up a lot throughout the Kastles’ run to a 16-0 record. Ein, Jensen and every player used that word repeatedly during the season. I found it to be synonymous for good chemistry and the results it produces.

The main byproduct of that kind of bond is “fun” – and the team that has the most fun playing together is often the team that wins, especially in team tennis. The Kastles were always at their best when they were high-fiving and hugging each other, Jensen was Lambeau leaping into the crowd, Paes was shining shoes, co-captain Rennae Stubbs was shouting encouragement and “Hotrod” Rodionova was dancing on the sideline.

The turning point against the Aces in my mind? Once Rodionova started dancing AND singing along with the music between points of her singles match, she stormed back to win her set.

“I’m so lucky to be on this team because everybody is just amazing,” Rodionova told me in a video interview (watch below) with World Tennis Magazine a few days before the finals. “They helped me out a lot. Everybody is so friendly and we’re having so much fun.”

Ein, a successful entrepreneur, watched his team perform as well as his companies do. He also noted they have a lot in common.

“In my other life, as an investor and builder of companies, we select the best people and the best people that work together,” he told me mid-way through the season. “That’s how we get results. It’s no different here. Last year, we brought in a star player at the end. This year, we decided to have four players that could win a championship on their own.”

Venus and Serena Williams also made contributions to the win count but it was the combination of wily veterans and rookie upstarts that was there from beginning to end.

I sensed before the season started that this Kastles team might gel into special. The impression came on what I thought would be a short phone call with Jensen that turned into an hour-plus chat.

“Tommy Lasorda told me the key to success is to get the team to care about each other and to love each other,” Jensen said, referring to the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers coach.

A grown man talking about the idea of getting pro athletes to love each other? I was intrigued and decided that I would spend more time studying the team this summer than I planned.

Not all was perfect at the beginning. Stubbs and Rodionova had bad body language early on in their doubles work, while the Russian rookie couldn’t find the same rhythm in her singles’ game as she did with her sideline dancing.

“In the beginning, I was scared to death,” she confessed. “It was my first year playing team tennis and I didn’t know what to expect.”

Jensen didn’t flinch when she struggled. Privately and publically, he expressed his faith in her.

“Arina is our hidden jewel,” he said, long before she won WTT rookie-of-the-year honors or the championship match MVP award. “She’s the girl that’s going to make all the difference.”

He was right.

That kind of support was no surprise to Ein.

“There is a beautiful harmony in the way they work off each other,” he said.

Reynolds echoed the sentiment.

“We fight as a team,” he said. “Ultimately, that is the best feeling.”

It’s a feeling – a chemistry – that is so powerful that even professional athletes can’t get enough of it … especially when it’s served with championship trophies.

“I enjoy this more than tour events,” Paes said. “When you do this, you’re doing it for the team and for the whole community. I hope I’m a Kastle for the rest of my life.”

Read more: World Team Tennis gives “gift of a lifetime”

Photocredit ©  Won-ok Kim



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4 Responses to “Good chemistry propels Kastles to World Team Tennis title”

  1. I love this article about our Washington Kastles Team! What a season and what an amazing experience! Thanks for the great work on this Chris!
    Coach Murphy