When they played one another for the first time as 16-year-olds in Miami, they were hailed as the future.
Twenty head-to-head WTA matches, two WTT meetings and half of a lifetime later, the future is still bright.
Former rivals Venus Williams and Martina Hingis made their much-anticipated debut as doubles partners on Wednesday, leading the Kastles to a 23-18 victory over the Texas Wild in front of a franchise-record 3,275 fans.
With 37 Grand Slam titles between them, Venus and Hingis showed the sold-out Smith Center what happens when two of the greatest tennis players in history share the same side of the court. After falling behind 1-2, Venus and Hingis swept the next 12 points en route to a 5-2 women’s doubles win.
It was a crucial victory for the Eastern Conference-leading Kastles in a closely-contested match against the Wild, who entered tied for first place in the Western Conference. As Washington and Texas battled for playoff positioning, three of the five sets went the distance and ended in a tiebreaker.
With the standing-room-only crowd packing the aisles, Venus returned to the court for women’s singles, which featured several sensational baseline rallies before Anabel Medina Garrigues of the Wild won the final point of a tiebreaker to steal the set 5-4.
The Kastles clung to an 18-16 lead going into the final set, but the Wild would not inch any closer. Paes and Reynolds defeated Smyczek and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi 5-2 to send more than 3,000 Kastles fans home happy.
As the capacity crowd filed in, Reynolds quickly fell behind against Smyczek, an American rival of his from the ATP World Tour. Reynolds leads his ATP head-to-head 6-3 against Smyczek, but the Wild player had won their last two meetings.
Timing their strokes perfectly from behind the baseline, Reynolds and Smyczek each tried to move his opponent from side to side to gain the upper hand and create an opening for a winner
Smyczek started the stronger of the two, converting back-to-back deciding points to take a 3-1 lead. Following holds by both men, Reynolds found his confidence with a backhand volley that would have made Paes proud, perfectly placed behind Smyczek to bring the Kastle to within 4-3.
Filling in for an injured Alex Bogomolov Jr., Smyczek scrambled back-and-forth, time and again, during a lengthy exchange at 4-3 that earned him three set points.
But winning that rally may have taken the wind out of the WTT rookie, who lost the next three points when Reynolds forced him into making errors.
The first of three tiebreakers in the match would decide men’s singles and Smyczek held two more set points with a 4-3 lead.
But again, Reynolds would not go down easily. He saved set point No. 4 by drawing a backhand error, then returned a tricky serve off of the net and hit a great passing shot at 4-4 that put Smyczek in an uncomfortable position at the net. The Wild substitute could not land his backhand volley as Reynolds celebrated exuberantly to the delight of more than 3,000 Kastles fans.
Venus and Hingis took to the court thereafter, warming up against one another before the start of the set.
But for the first time in their storied careers, they didn’t stay on opposite sides of the court.
Venus held to begin her first set as Hingis’ teammate, winning a 3-all deciding point by blasting a service winner into Medina Garrigues’ body.
Darija Jurak countered that with a 3-all hold of her own, then Texas broke Hingis when the Swiss star double-faulted on break point. For a brief moment, it appeared as if the all-star duo of Venus and Hingis was heading towards a disappointing defeat.
Slowly but surely, however, the two players began to feel more comfortable with one another. Hingis used her unique touch to open angles that Venus capitalized on with her brute strength, putting away powerful volleys at the net.
Hingis hit a forehand return winner to recover the break for 2-2, then Venus held at love to give her team a 3-2 lead. She continued to overpower the Wild in the following game, hitting two volley winners and a blazing return winner to break Jurak for 4-2. Only moments after trailing in the set, Hingis clinched it for the Kastles when she hit a forehand right at Jurak to draw a volley error.
The Kastles increased their overall lead to 13-7 when Hingis and Paes broke open a 3-1 lead in mixed doubles against Jurak and Qureshi.
That’s when Texas head coach Brent Haygarth elected to substitute the two-time French Open doubles champion Medina Garrigues in for Jurak.
Hoping to spark a comeback against the previously unbeaten Hingis and Paes, Medina Garrigues quickly gelled with Qureshi.
The Wild broke Paes’ serve in the very next game when Qureshi drew a rare volley error off the Indian’s racquet, making the set score 3-2 in favor of Washington. Following holds by Qureshi, Hingis and Medina Garrigues, the mixed doubles set was even at 4-4 and provided the second tiebreaker of the match.
Looking to grab the momentum from the outset, Texas took both points on Paes’ serve, highlighted by a Qureshi passing shot winner. They never lost the lead, clinching the tiebreaker 5-1 when Medina Garrigues created an opening with a well-carved volley, then brushed a backhand winner down the line.
As was the case in mixed doubles, the Kastles jumped out to a 3-1 lead in women’s singles as Venus seemingly hit winners at will against Medina Garrigues.
But Medina Garrigues, ranked as high as 16th in singles, rallied her team by retrieving Venus’ groundstrokes and turning defense into offense.
She recovered the break for 2-3 and went on to force a tiebreaker, each player matching the other’s high-level of play to the delight of the largest audience in Kastles history. The first three points of the tiebreaker were among the best rallies at the Smith Center all season.
Both benches sprung from their seats to salute the players following a breathtaking first point in which Venus moved briskly to ball after ball until finally putting away a swinging forehand volley. During the second point, “Oohs” and “Awws” echoed through the arena as Venus cut short another long rally with a drop shot that Medina Garrigues reached quickly, forcing Venus to pop her next shot up and giving Medina Garrigues an open court to place a volley into.
At 1-1, Venus played almost an identical point as she did at 0-0, ending right back at the net with another swinging forehand volley winner.
Having worked so hard to take a 2-1 lead, Venus was unable to maintain her level and lost the next three points. With a 4-2 advantage and three serves to win the set, Medina Garrigues nearly suffered the same fate as Smyczek by letting a series of set points slip away.
Venus worked her way back to 4-4, which would be the final point of the tiebreaker. She appeared to have the rally under control when she hit a sharp crosscourt backhand. But on the full stretch, Medina Garrigues sliced a backhand back crosscourt. When Venus tried to change direction and hit a backhand down the line, her shot landed just wide of the sideline, prompting Medina Garrigues to exhale, “Come on!”
Down by six games at one point in the third set, Texas had clawed its way back and trailed 18-16 going into the final set of men’s doubles.
The Wild boast the No. 1-rated men’s doubles team in WTT with Qureshi and Bogomolov. But Bogomolov’s injury meant that the pressure would be on the WTT newcomer Smyczek, who had never played in such a loud, hostile environment.
“Shock the world,” Bogomolov told Smyczek on the Texas bench.
Easier said than done.
The Kastles were never troubled on serve, winning 16 of their 18 service points as Paes and Reynolds proved nearly impenetrable at the net.
Playing for the first time ever together, Qureshi and Smyczek took some time to get used to each other’s patterns and positions on the court. But in WTT’s first-to-five format, there’s no time for adjusting.
In Texas’ first service game, Qureshi faced a 3-all deciding point. Sensing the importance of the moment, Reynolds unloaded on a forehand return that Qureshi couldn’t handle for what turned out to be the only break of the set.
It was one of several strong returns by Reynolds, who continues to raise his game when he’s wearing the red and blue. With Paes and Qureshi serving as the leaders of their respective doubles teams, Reynolds outplayed Smyczek to make the difference in doubles, seemingly a step ahead of every exchange at the net.
Serving for the match at 4-2, Paes capped off Washington’s win with a great serve down the tee on match point that allowed Reynolds to put an overhead away into the Kastles Loge.
Following a three-match road trip, the Kastles return to the Smith Center on Monday for back-to-back home matches against the Boston Lobsters and Springfield Lasers. Washington is also close to clinching home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference Championship match on July 24.
Washington Kastles 23, Texas Wild 18
Men’s Singles – Bobby Reynolds (Kastles) def. Tim Smyczek (Wild) 5-4
Women’s Doubles – Martina Hingis/Venus Williams (Kastles) def. Darija Jurak/Anabel Medina Garrigues (Wild) 5-2
Mixed Doubles – Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi/Anabel Medina Garrigues (Wild) def. Leander Paes/Martina Hingis (Kastles) 5-4
Women’s Singles – Anabel Medina Garrigues (Wild) def. Venus Williams (Kastles) 5-4
Men’s Doubles – Leander Paes/Bobby Reynolds (Kastles) def. Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi/Tim Smyczek (Wild) 5-2