BRONX, N.Y. — There might be a logjam for the other three spots in the World TeamTennis playoffs this season, but the first-place Philadelphia Freedoms showed why they’re the cream of the crop in New York on Tuesday night.
The Freedoms put on a dominant showing against the Empire winning 25-15 at the Cary Leeds Center for Tennis and Learning.
It was a tale of two sets of sets, if you will, for the two teams on the night: three events went to tiebreaks, with Philadelphia winning two, while reigning WTT Female MVP Taylor Townsend cruised in both of her sets for the Philadelphia women.
The Empire mixed doubles team of Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Neal Skupski kept the home team’s bid alive with a tiebreak win in the final set, but the big serve of France’s Fabrice Martin carried him and Raquel Atawo over the line in the first game of Extended Play.
In the second set, she partnered Atawo to a 5-1 win in Women’s Doubles over Martinez Sanchez and Varvara Lepchenko, and was similarly dominant in the fourth set, an identical 5-1 win over Lepchenko in Women’s Singles.
“I think everyone played really well tonight. We’ve been working really hard on the practice court to incorporate certain things in the matches, so I’m glad everything is clicking and I feel more solid going into tomorrow and into the finals,” Townsend said.
“I enjoy the league and I enjoy playing. I just have a good time. It’s nice to break up the routine…and getting a chance to play with people you may not have met before, or play with people that we now have established really good relationships with.
“I enjoy the team atmosphere and the pressure that it puts on me, because I play better.”
A victory for the Empire would’ve guaranteed New York a spot in the WTT Playoffs for the first time in team history, but the team’s postseason hopes are still alive heading into the regular-season finale: a rematch with the Freedoms on Wednesday in Philadelphia.
“I thought Philadelphia played really well. I thought they were the most dominant team last year, but they just didn’t win in the finals,” Empire head coach Luke Jensen said.
“They’re proving it once again. It’s the same team, and I’m just really impressed with their composure and everything. We’re sitting on the bench, and we’re saying, ‘We’ve gotta play them tomorrow. What did we learn?’
“These are all veterans, knowing. The last set is a great indicator of this team’s character, that we’re going to go out there and give it our best shot and if we can just take this little momentum at the end and shift it into a bus ride into Philly, and go into their place, with their crowd, and just see.
“The biggest thing is, we’re still in the hunt. We didn’t knock ourselves out of anywhere, and we have everything to play for tomorrow.”
The Empire’s best franchise finish came in 2017, when the team finished in third place in the overall league standings. The Empire not only seek to qualify for the WTT playoffs for the first time in Wednesday’s finale, but match or better that placing in franchise history.
IN THE CROWD
WTT founder and tennis legend Billie Jean King was on hand at the Cary Leeds Center as the Empire presented the New York Junior Tennis & Learning (NYJTL) with a check for $25,000 to help grow the game of tennis.
The Cary Leeds Center is the flagship home of the NYJTL, the largest grassroots tennis and education nonprofit in the U.S., serves 85,000 kids in all five boroughs of New York City annually.
Also on hand to celebrate the evening was Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz, Jr., Bronx district attorney Darcel D. Clark, New York City Parks Bronx Borough Commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa, and former New York City mayor and noted tennis fan David Dinkins.
At halftime, the Empire celebrated “Empower Her Night,” in conjunction with the Women’s Sports Foundation, celebrating women who have achieved in sports and in life.
Emceed by Emmy-award winning sportscaster Michelle Yu, a Bronx native, the ceremony featured Phaidra Knight, a World Rugby Hall of Famer and USA Rugby’s Player of the Decade; luger and four-time US Olympian Erin Hamlin; Vanessa Gibson, city council member in the 16th District of New York City; and Deborah Antoinette, executive director of the WSF.
The Empire and Freedoms will have a rematch to close out the regular season on Wednesday in Philadelphia, with first serve scheduled for at 7:00 p.m. ET at the Hagan Arena at Saint Joseph’s University. The match will air live on ESPN+, and fans can follow live results at nyempiretennis.com