For Patrick McEnroe, there is really one word that describes World Team Tennis.
“Fun,” said McEnroe, “Just a lot of fun for the players and the fans. That’s what it should be about.”
McEnroe has been involved in various roles in World Team Tennis since the late ‘90s, as player, coach and owner. Now he’s involved with a new team. He’s the coach of the New York Empire, which opens its inaugural season on Sunday night against the Washington Kastles at its home court, the stadium at the iconic West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, the long time home of the United States Open.
“I got a call from Billie Jean King [majority owner of the league and owner of the Philadelphia Freedoms franchise] early this year saying that there were investors who would bring back a franchise to the New York area, and would I be interested in coaching. Having been involved in team tennis, and having left my role at the USTA last year, I had the time to be involved in this, and knew what a ball it could be. I think the most important thing is that it brings men’s and women’s players together in a fun and competitive environment as equals.”
The Empire squad consists of feature player Christina McHale with Maria Irigoyen, Guido Pella and Neal Skupski. Designated marquee player Andy Roddick will play in two matches Aug. 9 and 10.
Aspiring local pro Noah Rubin of Merrick, coming off an ankle injury and anxious to get in some action before resuming his ATP Tour aspirations, will play in the Empire’s home match against the Springfield (Missouri) Lasers on Wednesday night at Forest Hills, while Pella heads to the Olympics in Rio.
“I was always around the old New York Sportimes team and really found it to be a blast,” Rubin said. “Being able to play against some pretty good competition in a fun atmosphere is something I really look forward to. It’s a really fun thing for the players and for the fans. Very interactive.”
Caroline Wozniacki, popular with the New York fans, will play for the Philadelphia Freedoms against the host Empire on Monday night before she heads for Rio, where she will be the flagbearer for her native Denmark.
“I’ve never been to [the West Side Tennis Club] but I hear it is really a very classy place,” Wozniacki said. “Playing team tennis gives me a chance to play a few matches before I head to Rio instead of just sitting around down there. Billie Jean King asked me if I wanted to play for her team. I said of course.”
New York is a tough market, but McEnroe is upbeat about the prospects of being successful.
“The U.S. Open has become a huge entertainment spectacle and I think we might be able to capitalize a little bit on that,” McEnroe said. “This will be an intimate environment with the fans right there in the action. The athleticism, the camaraderie, the connection to the tennis fans, the iconic West Side Tennis Club and all that history, there is a place for team tennis in New York.”
World Team Tennis
Franchises: New York Empire, Philadelphia Freedoms, Washington Kastles, Springfield Lasers, Orange County (California) Breakers, San Diego Aviators
New York Empire roster: Christina McHale, Maria Irigoyen, Guido Pella, Neal Skupski. Marquis player, Andy Roddick. Substitutes, Noah Rubin, Daniel Nguyen
Empire home dates: Sunday vs. Washington Kastles, Monday vs. Philadelphia Freedoms, Wednesday vs. Springfield Lasers, Aug. 9 vs. Washington Kastles, Aug. 11 vs. Orange County Breakers, Aug. 12 vs. San Diego Aviators