CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The Washington Kastles completed the first perfect season in World TeamTennis, defeating the St. Louis Aces 23-19 on Sunday night to win the series championship in a match that took nearly eight hours to complete because of several long rain delays.
The final began at 5:20 p.m. and lasted until Bobby Reynolds' winner at around 1:05 a.m. to the cheers of a few hundred fans who remained at Family Circle Stadium. The Kastles ended the year 16-0, the first team since the WTT began in 1974 to go through a season without a loss.
Washington's squad lasted through three rain delays totaling four hours in a city which last year won the honor as the "Best Tennis Town in America."
"This was something special and I'm glad I was a part of it," Reynolds said.
The event was played at the home of the women's clay court Family Circle Cup played each spring. The summer tennis circuit agreed last winter to hold its conference championships and finals here.
The Kastles won their second championship in three seasons. And it took almost everything they had.
Reynolds was playing men's singles, the last segment of the five-event team format, and Washington was ahead 22-14. That's when Reynolds' opponent, Roman Borvanov staged a late comeback, winning five consecutive games to draw St. Louis within three games. Things got even crazier when Washington coach Murphy Jensen threw a water bottle on the court in celebration when he thought Reynolds' overhead smash would clinch the championship. Instead, Borvanov returned the shot and St. Louis gained the point to continue the match.
Reynolds wrapped things up in his next service game, winning Washington's second WTT title in three seasons.
"I wanted to cry," Jensen said. "I pray for a lot of things but this one I said, "'If you can help me, this is the one I want.'"
The Kastles advanced to the finals by defeating the Boston Lobsters in the Eastern Conference title Friday night. St. Louis won the Western Conference over Sacramento on Saturday night and was vying for its first WTT crown since 1996.
The contest was anything but a typical tennis tournament. Cheerleaders from nearby Bishop England High School waved pompoms from the sidelines, music was blasted between points and a man on stilts danced along on the court and in the stands.
WTT commissioner Ilana Kloss said the new approach to the series concluding weekend went very well.
"We predetermined the market and that's always a little scary," she said.
Then again, Charleston's recent past in tennis gave organizers comfort. More than 2,000 turned out here Sunday, including College of Charleston basketball coach Bobby Cremins, who holds a yearly tennis fundraising event.
The city won the United States Tennis Association's online vote for the "Best Tennis" designation, outpointing much larger Southern cities Atlanta and Richmond for the honor. Family Circle Tennis Center general manager Bob Moran said the yearly tournament, which boasts past champions such as world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Justine Henin and American stars Venus and Serena Williams, has influenced recreational players to dig out their rackets and find a court.
"We've seen tennis participation in Charleston grow exponentially in the past 10 years," Moran said. "It's boomed and that's the result of professional tennis being here."
Charleston jumped at the change to gain the Family Circle Cup in the late 1990s when the tournament, the first women's only professional event, outgrew its old home on Hilton Head Island. The Daniel Island facility offered more court space and locker rooms, plus the women's event didn't have to share billing with the PGA Tour, which held its Heritage event the week after the tennis tournament wrapped up.
Kloss was on the WTA board when the move to Charleston was discussed. "There were a lot of questions," she said.
There are far less about the city's tennis commitment these days.
Billie Jean King, the co-founder of World TeamTennis, didn't know much about the facility or the city before the Family Circle arrived. She said Moran had initially approached the league about holding a WTT team here before the league settled on bringing its title weekend to Charleston. "I kept watching it on TV and seeing the beauty shots" of the stadium, King said. Then, "you get here and see the layout of the facility and the possibilities of it."
Enough to return?
Kloss, King and Moran all think so. When King was visiting with Moran, she stated bluntly, "So what are we going to do next year?"
Moran said much depends on finances and growing attendance. Also, he'll have to gauge the community's future response. The three-day event drew 4,892 fans, including 1,692 for the finals -- although most of those had left long before the final point.
Kloss would love to have a Southern base for the league, which just completed its 36th season. If that means a team in Charleston or a return as a finals site, she's not sure.
"This is a very pivotal time for us," Kloss said. "We're looking three to five years down the road."
If it's up to Reynolds, the series would definitely return.
"It's a beautiful city and this facility here is unbelievable," he said.