World TeamTennis: Philadelphia Freedoms spoil New York Empire home finale with victory in extended play
Townsend and the Freedoms won four of five sets en route to victory/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA

World TeamTennis: Philadelphia Freedoms spoil New York Empire home finale with victory in extended play

Philadelphia improved to a league-best 11-2 while the Empire must win the final match of the year against the Freedoms to reach the playoffs for the first time ever.

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John Lupo

The New York Empire closed out the home portion of their 2019 World Team Tennis season with a 25-15 loss to the Philadelphia Freedoms in extended play. The defeat leaves New York at 7-6 heading into the final match of the season at Philadelphia, one game ahead of Orange County and Vegas, who are both 6-7.

For the second straight match, Empire head coach Luke Jensen elected to start with men's singles as Mardy Fish took on the Freedoms' Mitchell Krueger. The decision appeared to pay off as Fish raced out to a 3-1 lead only to see Krueger rally back to force a tiebreaker, saving a set point at 4-3 down.

The breaker was close throughout, but Krueger came out on top 5-3 to give Philadelphia the early lead. Women's doubles was next and the Freedoms' duo of Raquel Atawo and Taylor Townsend dominated the second set, overpowering Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Varvara Lepchenko 5-1 to give the league leaders a 10-5 advantage.

Fish returned for the third set to partner Neal Skupski in men's doubles against Krueger and Fabrice Martin. For the third time in his four sets, Fish would be involved in a tiebreaker and at 4-4, Krueger fired down a 135 mph serve to extend the Freedoms' lead to 15-9, Philadelphia showing why they are a league-best 10-2.

Krueger bested Fish twice to win the first and third sets/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA
Krueger bested Fish twice to win the first and third sets/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA

Townsend and Lepchenko squared off in women's singles and the Freedoms' lefty, ranked number one in the league, jumped out to a 3-0 lead before closing out the fourth set 5-1 to make the overall score 20-10 heading into the fifth set.

Skupski and Martinez Sanchez took the court for the final set in mixed doubles against Martin and Atawo. Needing to win to force extended play, the Empire duo, as they have done all year, came up huge, winning the set 5-4 after trailing 4-3. Extended play lasted one game as Martin sealed the win with a huge serve.

Jensen gives preview of season finale

With Ulises Blanch expected to play the regular-season finale, Jensen spoke of what the 21-year old learned by watching Fish the last two nights: "I think the biggest thing I stressed to Ulises is to soak up the Davis Cup captain's knowledge and expertise.

"The veterans don't panic. They don't panic. They look at the situation up or down and they figure it out. Just go out there and be the vest version of you possible. Ulises is something very special. He's coachable. He's locked into the team. He's locked in with someone like Mardy Fish."

Speaking on the home season as a whole, the Empire head coach stated "It was really special. Cary Leeds is a very special place in the community. This is a facility that brings in over 80,000 kids a year and we're their pro team. We're New York's professional tennis team."

Jensen's spirit and enthusiasm has the Empire in contention for a championship/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA
Jensen's spirit and enthusiasm has the Empire in contention for a championship/Photo: John Lupo/VAVEL USA

Jensen concluded with a message to the fans: "I hope they're proud of the team. The team is very proud to be New York's pro tennis team. They love wearing the colours and representing the colours and wearing the brand, representing the area and the tennis community around here. 

"I think the biggest thing is follow us (on the road) and see how good we can be because once we get to the playoffs, we'll see who has their very best. It's gonna be a lot of fun."

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