By Barry Janoff
July 10, 2013: The last time the Washington Kastles of the Mylan World TeamTennis Pro League presented by Geico lost a match was July 22, 2010.
That week, the original Despicable Me premiered and Katy Perry's "California Girls" was atop the charts.
On Tuesday, July 9, 2013, the Kastles made U.S. pro sports history by recording their 34th consecutive win. WTT and team executives were putting that up against the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers (1971-72) had 33 consecutive wins, the MLB record of 26 straight wins held by the New York Giants (1916) and the New England Patriots setting the NFL mark with 21 consecutive regular-season wins (October 2003-October 2004).
According to the Kastles, among the VIPs present at the 33rd win match were First Lady Michelle Obama, Washington Redskins Hall of Famer John Riggins and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer. In addition, Venus Williams supported her Kastles teammates from the bench, unable to compete because of a back injury.
The team is led by captain and seven-time Grand Slam doubles champion Leander Peas, Kevin Anderson (currently ranked No. 22 in the world), five-time Grand Slam winner Martina Hingis, Bobby Reynolds and Anastasia Rodionova. The head coach is Murphy Jensen. Among the players who have been part of the Kastles winning streak are Serena and Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka.
The Kastles, under the auspices of founder and owner Mark Ein, are no strangers to winning. On July 8, the same day they won their 33rd consecutive game, the team and executives were guests of honor of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama — a self-confessed fan of the Kastles and tennis — at the White House. There, they were celebrated for winning the 2012 WTT King Trophy, which was named after tennis icon and WTT co-founder Billly Jean King (who also was present in the Oval Office).
The Kastles, now in their sixth season, also won the King Trophy in 2009 and 2011. Among its bevy of sponsors are Geico, SunTrust Bank, FedEx, Turkish Airlines, Marriott and Nike. The team's marketing mantra: "Politics Isn't The Only Game In Town"
The Mylan World TeamTennis Pro League presented by Geico, founded in 1974, includes eight franchises comprising two conferences. Among other players in the league are Andy Roddick (Springfield Lasers), John McEnroe (New York SportTimes), Bob and Mike Bryan (Texas Wild), Mardy Fish and Sam Quarray (both with the Sacramento Capitals) and Jim Courier (Texas Wild).
The 2013 season runs from July 7-29. In addition to local coverage, Tennis Channel is airing a national game of the week as well as an encore of the finals tournament at the end of the season.
Mark Ein is an investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist, who has created, acquired, invested in and built a series of growth companies across a diverse set of industries over the course of his 21 year career. Ein currently is chairman and CEO of Capitol Acquisition Corporation 2, and is co-chairman and Principal Shareholder of Kastle Systems, LLC, a leading provider of managed security systems for commercial office buildings. He also serves on the board of directors of the U.S. Tennis Assn. and numerous other groups dedicated to building the sport and getting young players involved with the tennis.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Ein about WTT, the Kastles' winning streak and the business of tennis.
NYSportsJournalism.com: When you were approaching the winning-streak record of the Los Angeles Lakers (and ultimately passed it), was it being treated similar to a pitcher in the midst of tossing a perfect game: Don't talk about it, don't mention it, don't jinx it?
Mark Ein: [Laughs.] Yes. We didn't really talk about it. People and fans talk to us about it. It has been an incredible week around here. We went out to win every match.
NYSJ: When you look at the concept of the WTT, which supports the team strategy, doesn't that go against the general image of tennis being a solitary sport?
ME: That actually is what's making this experience so special. This is, by and large, an individual sport. But when you bring those individuals together on a team, the result is unbelievable. Other than Davis Cup or Federation Cup events, this is the first time these athletes are seeing four or five other athletes alongside them, and they are all wearing the name of their team on their shirts and not just their individual names. They look in the stands, and they see people who not only want to see a great point, they see fans who are cheering for the team with Washington Kastles on their jersey cheering to beat the team from New York. When they do interviews, when they travel to out-of-town matches, they all feel as if they are playing for an entire city and not just for themselves.
NYSJ: How important has the idea that players such as Martina Hingis and Kevin Anderson, who have achieved so much as individuals, have acclimated to this team concept has been to the success of the Kastles?
ME: Very important. I see that all these players realize they are playing for something bigger than individual success. They are playing for their teammates. They are playing for a community. They are playing for a city. It has inspired them to do unbelievable things.
"They are playing for their teammates. They are playing for a community. They are playing for a city. It has inspired them to do unbelievable things."
NYSJ: What response have you been getting from marketers and local fans?
ME: This is our sixth season. We have a group of solid marketing partners who have supported the team and have helped to get our message out to the city. We sold-out our first match. There is a great tennis community here. There is a great sports community here. So we've had success from the beginning. It has continued to grow over the years. At our games this week, during player intros, fans were standing and applauding. And because of our location, we have as fans people from all walks of life, from local sports teams and from throughout the federal government. That is a normal night. It is like that at every match. There is a deep, emotional connection between our fans and the players who wear the red Kastles' jerseys.
NYSJ: How have you been received by the other pro sports teams in the area, such as the Nationals (MLB), Wizards (NBA), Capitals (NHL) and Redkskins (NFL)?
ME: Ted Leonsis (founder, chairman, majority owner and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns and operates the Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards, the WNBA's Washington Mystics and Verizon Center) is a good friend and regularly attends matches. Ed Cohen (a principal owner of the Nationals) was at our match on Monday. We all work together and we help each other. There is a great community of sports ownership here.
NYSJ: Social media is prevalent throughout sports, but how big of an impact has it had on the success of the Kastles?
ME: We have had a totally crazy amount of conversation on social media [because of the winning streak]. And that is from all over the world. The Kastles have really caught on and captured the imagination of fans. When we tied the mark set by the Lakers, we even got a tweet from Jeanie Buss, (executive vice president) with the Lakers, whose family owned a WTT franchise (the Los Angeles Strings) in the 1970s. (Editor's Note: The tweet read: "Congrats to Washington #Kastles of #WorldTeamTennis for tying Lakers 33 game win streak tonite. Going for record 34 tmrw vs. Boston Lobsters.") And the media coverage has been amazing. When we won our 33rd consecutive match, we made ESPN's "Top Ten" highlights of the day. And other than a Grand Slam final, how often do you see that?
NYSJ: When you look at the current landscape of tennis, how would you describe the global state of the sport?
ME: Globally, I think the sport is in a fantastic place at the moment. The level of athleticism and competition is higher than it's ever been. What the players are able to do — and are pushed to do — on the court at the highest level is hard to match by any sport. Obviously, tennis people are obsessed with the sport. Personally, so much of what I have been able to accomplish in my life was due to the lessons I have learned on a tennis court. But it's great that a whole new generation around the world is finding the sport and becoming part of it.
NYSJ: Do we need more top-ranked U.S. players for the sport to grow here?
ME: In the U.S., because we do live in a global society, I see it being less important today that the No. 1 men's player in the world is not from the U.S. A lot of American fans root for Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic. They wanted to see Andy Murray win at Wimbledon. We do have Serena Williams ranked No. 1 among women. And I believe that inspires young people in the U.S. to start playing and motivates people in the U.S. who might be casual fans to get into the sport. And that's part of what we need too grow the sport. If you go to a Kastles' match, 70% of the people in the stands are not core tennis people. They are people who are sports fans and want to root for a Washington team. And who want to have a fun night. People have come up to me after a match to say that although they haven't played tennis for years, they were inspired to get back into the sport. And, for me, that's one of the most rewarding things about this whole experience.
Photos: Courtesy Washington Kastles