World TeamTennis: New York Empire win third straight match with hard-fought victory over Orlando Storm
Flipkens came through with two key set wins for the Empire/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA

World TeamTennis: New York Empire win third straight match with hard-fought victory over Orlando Storm

The Empire got off to a fast start before the Storm rallied to cut into the lead only to see New York claim a final set tiebreaker to keep their playoff hopes firmly alive.

john-lupo
John Lupo

The New York Empire have won their third consecutive match, battling past the expansion Orlando Storm 23-18 at the Cary Leeds Center. The two teams are headed in opposite directions with New York rebounding from a 1-3 start to place third in the league standings while Orlando suffered its fifth straight defeat after starting 2-0.

Empire survive weather, Storm to pick up third win in a row

Due to the extreme heat that has hit New York City in the last week, the start of the match was pushed back two hours. Once it started, mixed doubles kicked things off. The Empire team of Neal Skupski and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez won the first two games against the Storm duo of Ken Skupski and Whitney Osuigwe.

Rain then halted play for nearly an hour. Once it picked up, Neal Skupski and Martinez Sanchez returned to close out Ken Skupski and Osgiuwe 5-2 to get New York off to an early lead heading into women's doubles.

Skupski (l.) and Martinez Sanchez (r.) have been the best mixed doubles team in the league, consistently getting the Empire off to good starts/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA
Skupski (l.) and Martinez Sanchez (r.) have been the best mixed doubles team in the league, consistently getting the Empire off to good starts/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA

Martinez Sanchez returned to partner with Kirsten Flipkens for the Empire while the Storm countered with Osiugwe and Darija Jurak. Orlando seemed to find their footing and the set would go back-and-forth with New York leading 4-3. As they have been doing recently, the Empire won the key point to take the set 5-3 and an overall 10-5 edge.

Ulises Blanch was called on for men's singles by New York coach Luke Jensen while Orlando coach Scott Lipsky sent out Evan King, who was a mainstay on the New York Buzz as a 17-year old in 2009. The two played quick points, trading powerful shots until King gave the Storm a much-needed set 5-3, trimming the overall deficit to 13-10.

King won the only set of the night for the slumping Storm/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA
King won the only set of the night for the slumping Storm/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA

Flipkens and Osiguwe contested the women's singles and it appeared the veteran Belgian would take the set comfortably, jumping out to a 3-1 lead only to see the 17-year old use her power to rally and force a tiebreaker, won by Flipkens to increase the lead to 18-14.

Fittingly, the final set was decided in a tiebreaker with Neal Skupski and Blanch facing Ken Skupski and King. The four men showcased all of their skills as Orlando looked to force extended play. As they have done during this winning streak, the Empire won the important points, winning the breaker 5-4.

Jensen, Flipkens talk about tough victory

"They weren't gonna panic", Jensen said of how Orlando played following the stoppage. "They used the rain delay to make adjustments to go after us. The biggest thing is we didn't give up and just kept moving forward with really smart play."

At 4-3, New York now faces a four-match road trip beginning Tuesday night in Vegas. "The first third of the season is over", Jensen stated. "We're getting into the road trip with a nice little mindset. If we can get charged up mentally, we're there. This road trip is gonna be very positive."

"We started off well with the mixed", Flipkens said. "I've been improving my game every match." She added "i'm just happy with the win today. It's a good team effort."

Flipkens and the empire look to continue their fine play on the road/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA
Flipkens and the empire look to continue their fine play on the road/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA

"I think we had to get used to each other a little bit in the beginning", the Belgian said of her partnership with Martinez Sanchez. "The more we're playing together, the better its going. We understand each other. We're a good combination."

On the upcoming road trip, she said "I just think we need a good rest. We've had a lot of matches the last couple of days. I think it's a matter of being healthy and fresh once we start the matches. We'll be ready for Tuesday."

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