Williams set to play for Washington Kastles

WASHINGTON -- Since World TeamTennis began in the 1970s, Billie Jean King was often approached about setting up shop in the nation's capital. Well, in a nearby suburb, anyway.

Finally, someone came forward with a plan to put a team right smack dab in the heart of downtown D.C. -- and that made it a perfect fit, as far as King is concerned. So the Washington Kastles will join World TeamTennis this summer, playing home matches in a 2,020-seat temporary stadium set up in a parking lot where the city's convention center used to stand at 11th and H Streets.

"We're very happy being actually in D.C. We've had other people talk to us for years and years about coming to the area, but not D.C. It's usually Virginia, Maryland -- around the area," WTT co-founder King said Wednesday. "I'm thrilled with this. This is exactly right: an international city, different cultures."

She was on hand for a news conference in the aforementioned parking lot. Also present: WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss, Kastles owner Mark Ein, mayor Adrian M. Fenty and D.C. Council member Jack Evans. Oh, and someone decked out in head-to-toe knight's armor, presumably the Kastles' mascot.

Not present, other than as an image on a poster: Serena Williams, the Kastles' best-known player.

According to a schedule released Wednesday, Williams -- who has won eight Grand Slam singles titles -- will only be playing in four of the Kastles' 14 regular-season matches.

And she is slated to play in Washington just once, against the Boston Lobsters on July 8, which happens to be three days after the women's championship match at Wimbledon.

"In a perfect world, we would love to try to get Serena for seven nights," Kloss said.

Still, Kloss continued, having Williams attached to Washington's team will help draw fans who will then find they like the WTT's format (men and women playing singles, doubles and mixed doubles) and kid-friendly features (free racket and ball to everyone under 16, postmatch autographs).

"People come out maybe because it's a big name, but once they get that it's a team and they can bring the kids, we find that people come back regardless of who's playing," Kloss said. "It's huge to have Serena be a part of it, but I think they'll find it's such a great experience that they'll continue to come back."

Also on the Kastles: Justin Gimelstob, who recently retired from the ATP tour; past U.S. Fed Cup player Masona Washington; Scott Oudsema, who won three junior Grand Slam doubles titles in 2004; and Sacha Jones, an 18-year-old from New Zealand.

Evans pointed out that the site where the Kastles plan to play is in a neighborhood that a decade or so ago "was so dangerous nobody came here."

Now it's near the revitalized Penn Quarter, which features the Verizon Center, home to the NBA's Wizards and NHL's Capitals, and several popular bars and restaurants.

Noting that baseball's Nationals also play in the city but that the NFL's Redskins have a stadium in Maryland, Evans said: "The only team that we don't have are the Washington Redskins, and I've got to tell you we're working on that, too."