World Team Tennis has been around since 1974, with revolutionary figures Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe at the helm of it. It began as a league with 16 teams with many top players taking part, some even skipping the French Open to do so. Nowadays, it is a shadow of its former fame, with just six teams and mostly lesser-known players, but in my opinion, there is still some value to the competition.
One of the first things that an average tennis fan will need to adjust to, other than the crazy colors of the court, is the very different scoring format.
Five sets are played, one of each of men's singles, men's doubles, women's singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles. Each set is first to five games, first to four points in each game.
Unlike regular tennis, the scoring goes one-two-three-game as opposed to 15-30-40-game. There are no deuces, so at 3-3 a deciding point is played, where the receiver chooses which side to return from. At 4-4 in a set, a first-to-five tiebreaker is played.
There are also no lets, and in doubles, a let serve can be returned by either of the partners, a rule that caused some confusion and outrage as Jacqueline Cako and Yanine Wickmayer of the Orange County Breakers seemed unaware of this rule and argued with the umpire.
To prevent dead rubbers, if a player wins the fifth set but their team is still losing, the match continues until the opposing player wins a game or the game gets tied. Once that happens, the players of the fifth set play a first-to-seven supertiebreaker to decide the match.
Other differences include switching sides after four games as opposed to the traditional first game switch and every two games from then on. There is also a 25-second shot clock displayed on court. At my match, there were also no line judges, replaced by Hawkeye cameras with pre-recorded out calls.
Each team also gets two timeouts per set, which are announced by two small children running on court with timeout signs, usually eliciting a big reaction from the crowd.
There are four players from each team necessary to play World Team Tennis, two male and two female to make the doubles possible. Two singles players and two doubles specialists are the base of the team, but most teams have a few marquee players sprinkled on top that appear only in a few of their team's matches, usually only home, the more marketable players. There also substitutes that can be signed during the season due to injuries.
For example, the Philadelphia Freedoms have big stars such as Kevin Anderson and Sloane Stephens on the roster, but the bulk of the Freedoms' matches will be played by the lesser-known Kevin King and Taylor Townsend. It is these and the doubles players that usually become the crowd favorites.
As for the teams, the players really seem to love the team atmosphere and that is probably World Team Tennis' biggest attraction to the players. There was a lot of banter and mentoring going on during the practice. I would imagine that for a young player like Miomir Kecmanovic being on a team with a seasoned veteran like Daniel Nestor must be very beneficial.
For this, I will draw personally from my experience of the match between the Orange County Breakers and Springfield Lasers from this season. I got in with a media pass, but I found that the tickets were surprisingly expensive, starting at $30. This was a match with no marquee players in it and provided about two-and-a-half hours of entertainment. Other teams do provide cheaper tickets, but it was still quite a surprise.
As media, I got to sit courtside, but there were only eight or so rows behind me, so everyone definitely got a good view. There were about 100 spectators with an approximate capacity of 200. That said, there was some good atmosphere, especially for Breakers' designated doubles player Marcelo Demoliner and the kids announcing the timeouts.
There are two types of people who World Team Tennis is for: general tennis fans who just want to see some live action near them or utter tennis nerds (like myself) who can truly appreciate and enjoy a set between Darian King and Miomir Kecmanovic. The format is fun and once you look past the price, I would definitely recommend World Team Tennis.