The New York Empire snapped a two-match losing streak, routing the Washington Kastles 22-13 in World Team Tennis action at the Cary Leeds Center in the Bronx. The win improves New York's record to 2-3 while Washington remains winless at 0-4, having played one less match following a rainout earlier in the week.
With air temperatures approaching 100 degrees, the conditions were challenging for both fans and players alike. The presence of seven-time major champion Venus Williams drew a near-capacity crowd to the Bronx despite the extreme heat.
"She's one of the greatest of all-time. It's just magical seeing her", Empire head coach Luke Jensen said.
Empire crush Kastles in blistering conditions
Williams partnered with Nathan Pasha in mixed doubles to kick off the match against the Empire duo of Neal Skupski and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez. The set proved to be no contest as New York's steady veterans won 5-1, the low point for Washington coming when Pasha accidentally hit Williams in the head with a serve.
The second set was women's doubles with Williams returning to the court, paired with 17-year old Marta Kostyuk against Martinez Sanchez and Kirsten Flipkens. Again, the Empire got off to a quick start, taking a 3-0 lead before closing out the set 5-3 to extend their advantage to 10-4.
Blanch was called upon in men's singles to face Yoshihito Nishioka. The 20-year old's firepower proved to be too much for the Kastles lefty as Blanch won 11 of 16 first serve points on serve to claim the third set 5-2 and widen the New York lead to 15-6 entering the halftime break.
Williams has long been a staple of the Washington success, helping them to six WTT titles and a 35-match winning streak and when she took on Flipkens in women's singles, she once again showed her mettle, outclassing the crafty Belgian to take the set 5-2 and reduce the deficit to 17-11 heading into the fifth.
Skupski and Blanch faced Nishioka and Pasha in men's doubles and although it would appear the Empire had a big edge, Washington's lefty-righty team kept it close, the first four sets being split evenly before New York took over, winning the final three games to close out a fine performance.
Jensen, Skupski talk about dominant performance
"The strategy was playing to our capabilities", Jensen said following the match. "We didn't play bigger than we had to. They played very calm within themselves with controlled power. We get these guys tomorrow, so you know they're going to make adjustments."
In such hot weather, the New York coach wanted "shorter points. Ulises is grinding out there. He's got the big game, the big serve. You want to try to keep it short, take the big forehand and go for it."
"Very happy with how the whole team performed", Skupski added. "It was a collective effort. We were solid throughout. We're happy with our performance.
"When Ulises comes in as a rookie, obviously there's a lot of things for him to learn. You have to try and keep him on his toes. He needs to be ready for every match. He's got an absolute cannon."
The next home match is Sunday against the expansion Orlando Storm, which will feature Skupski's brother Ken: "i've played against Ken when he was with Orange County. I enjoy playing against him. We're both very competitive."
MacPherson reflects on blowout loss, Venus
"We got a little behind there", said Kastles coach David MacPherson. "The men's singles put the match out of reach. A great set from Venus kept it interesting until the end.
"It's a lifetime experience for the team (to have Venus around). For Marta to play doubles with her, Nathan to play mixed with her, that was a treat for both of them. She's such an incredible professional. So smart with her tactics and anticipation. She was amazing."