Joining younger sister Arina on this year’s squad is Anastasia Rodionova, a renowned player who is currently ranked number 20 in the world in doubles.
The Rodionova sisters team up with the Williams sisters — Serena and Venus —along with returning players, Leander Paes and Bobby Reynolds, under the tutelage of coach Murphy Jensen.
Rennae Stubbs will not be returning to the fold, as she retired from tennis. In her place is Anastasia, and the Kastles squad is excited to have her.
“We are getting a great player in Anastasia Rodionova,” Reynolds said. “She is great in both singles and doubles, and I feel she will help bring more success to the Kastles in 2012.”
The Kastles have a tough act to follow after their dominating 16-0 run last summer, but Anastasia is excited to face the challenge and return to World Team Tennis after a few years absent from the circuit. She last played for the Orange County Breakers in 2006.
“My sister last year played for the first time ever and she was lucky to be on the Kastles team,” Anastasia said. “She told me so many good things about the team and how she really enjoyed it. So I thought it was a good time for me to come back to World TeamTennis and be on the same team as my sister. Especially since they are on a winning streak. That’s a good team to be on.”
Anastasia is also familiar with Paes, who defeated her in the 2003 Wimbledon mixed doubles finals.
“That final was almost ten years ago,” Anastasia laughs. “But Leander played very well and I know him quite well. It’s definitely different when Leander is on your side of the court. It’s a big advantage. He is a great doubles player and I’m really looking forward to being on the same team as him.”
The Kastles play their DC home opener July 12 against the New York Sportimes, which presents Anastasia the opportunity to play against one of her idols, Martina Hingis.
“I always enjoyed the way she played,” Anastasia said. “When she played, she was the smartest player on tour. I’ve played TeamTennis against her in doubles, but I don’t remember playing [singles] on the tour ever against her. That’s going to be exciting. It will definitely be a tough challenge because even though she hasn’t played for a while, she’s still a great player and it’s very difficult to play against her.”
Younger sister Arina had a big year for the Kastles in 2011, being named the WTT Female Rookie of the Year, and the WTT Finals MVP.
Arina said she is looking forward to playing with the Kastles again, and reuniting with her older sister.
“We don’t have a lot of team events in tennis,” Arina said. “I represented Russia on juniors teams, but it was a while ago so I don’t remember much.”
Both sisters were born in Russia and now represent Australia in tennis. Their father, Ivan was a tennis coach, and started both girls playing at an early age (Anastasia at 7, Arina at 3).
Anastasia said she’s looking forward to playing alongside Arina in the doubles format this season.
“I think we’re going to have a pretty good advantage over the girls on the other teams because we know each other really well,” Anastasia said. “We’ve played doubles a lot together and I think that’s going to help us get a few points here and there. Every point counts in World TeamTennis.”
A coed professional league that was founded in 1973, the WTT today features eight teams that are broken up into two separate conferences, Eastern and Western. Matches consist of five sets: one set each with each set representing a configuration of men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles.
Each team has a coach and four players — two men and two women (five players are permitted if there is a marquee name on the team). Alternates can be named in case of injury, and players are permitted to play in three sets per match.
While last season was magical, the players are careful not to exude too much confidence and predict a repeat in 2012. After all, the Kastles became the first team in the history of the league to complete a perfect season.
“As much as we will try and go undefeated again, I find it hard to believe that the Kastles or any other team will ever go undefeated again and that’s what makes last year so special,” said Reynolds, who was the WTT’s second-ranked men’s singles player and top-ranked men’s doubles player (tied with Paes) in 2011.
Anastasia echoed Reynolds’ sentiments. “I think it would be really difficult to do it again. But I’m pretty sure that our team wants to go out there and try our best every single match that we’re in.”
The Kastles will be buoyed once again by the Williams sisters. Serena represented the Kastles in their very first match in downtown DC in 2008. This year, Coach Jensen had some juggling to do to accommodate Venus and Serena’s schedules for the 2012 London Olympics. Venus will be playing the July 16 home and July 21 away matches only, and Serena will be playing only the July 22 home match. Olympic tennis begins July 28.
Regardless, the Kastles are bound to provide exhilarating athleticism and entertainment once again for their DC fans, with new player Anastasia serving as a draw at the ticket windows.
Anastasia has been to Washington just once – last summer when she visited Arina and took in a Kastles match from the player’s bench. Little did she know that a year later, she would be a member of the team.
“On the first day, we went sightseeing for a couple of hours,” Anastasia said. I actually really liked the city and I was really surprised. There are so many things to see and I really enjoyed myself. Then, I went to watch the Kastles match and I was already sitting on the bench with the guys, not knowing that I was going to be playing with them the next year. It was a great atmosphere and I really enjoyed the whole team environment. That’s one of the reasons why I’m playing now for the Kastles.”
Watch the Kastles at the Stadium at the Wharf: 800 Water St. SW, DC. For more information, www.washingtonkastles.com.
Want to go to a match with On Tap? Friday, July 20, On Tap will host a “Meet and Greet” with a player from the Kastles before they take on the Orange County Breakers. The match starts at 7:10 p.m., and the “Meet and Greet” begins an hour prior at 6 p.m. Price is $30 and includes your ticket to the match, your “Meet and Greet” pass, as well as food and beverages. Get your tickets today at store.ontaponline.com.