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Luke Jensen to succeed Gigi Fernandez as New York Empire coach

One-third of the teams in World TeamTennis this summer will be coached by Jensen brothers.

Murphy has been at it for a decade with the Washington Kastles, and has won six championships, but this summer he will find a familiar face leading the New York Empire – his brother and longtime doubles partner, Luke.

The Empire plan to announce this week that Luke will succeed Gigi Fernandez, who coached the team for two years, going 7-7 in 2017 and 2-12 in ’18, before leaving the job, citing time commitments.

For Jensen, the job has been a long time coming after playing nine seasons in WTT starting in 1994, doing commentary for the league off and on since then and observing his brother’s success.

“I loved playing it, covering it and always thought it would be really cool to coach it, but there was never the perfect fit,” he said.

Now he has one, tied in part to the fact he already has a job in New York as director of racquet sports for the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, Queens. He spoke to his brother about what the job involves, weighed his responsibilities – including TV commentary for ESPN and other outlets – and decided to try it.

“I just thought it was an unbelievable kind of opportunity for me, and it just works,” he said.

Jensen is the only tennis celebrity in the fold so far for 2019. No players have been announced, but the Empire are in good position entering the March 12 draft.

“We pick first because we didn’t have a good season last year, so it’s kind of a blessing in disguise,” he said. “Coming off what was a tragic season, it’s going to be a glorious step one, starting with the first overall pick.”

Jensen, 52, plans to focus on drafting doubles experts, in part because the format of WTT rewards success there, and in part because of his own background. The Jensen brothers won the 1993 French Open together, among other tournaments.

“There’s no doubt that my experience in playing and coaching [doubles] is going to help,” he said.

Part of Jensen’s pitch to get players interested is that he found that playing WTT helped get his tennis summer off to a good start heading into the U.S. Open.

Beyond that, WTT should be a good fit for his outgoing personality. “You are not a major-sport franchise; you are a minor-league, kind of Durham Bulls, but in a major market.

“How do you get the tennis community to come out and support that? You have to be different, and it was right up our alley. Honestly, we’re tennis fans that got the opportunity to go out there and play pro tennis and we kind of competed that way. World TeamTennis was an extension of our fun.”

Jensen said another appeal of WTT is its longtime association with co-founder Billie Jean King.

“She’s on the Mount Rushmore of impactful people that really move the needle in sports and society,” said Jensen, who one season was coached in WTT by King. “She is always 20 years ahead of the sport, and she’s always thinking: How can we connect our game to the next level? Where are we going?

“She wakes up with an energy of excellence, and you just feed off of it.”

The Empire has not announced where it will play this season after spending the past two summers at Court 17 of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

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