New York Empire return to Flushing Meadows for season opener Sunday

New Yorkers yearning for great tennis need not wait until the U.S. Open returns in late August.

World Team Tennis will be serving up its three-week summer season starting this weekend, with the New York Empire taking to Court 17 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows on Sunday and hosting the Washington Kastles. This marks the 42nd season for WTT, the team competition founded by legend Billie Jean King, and the third season for New York’s team.

“The format is very exciting,” said Gigi Fernandez, a 17-time Grand Slam doubles champion who is entering her second season as coach of the Empire. “You get to see men’s and women’s singles, men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles all in a two-hour span. And the fans can get really involved. Cheering is encouraged.”

The unique rules of WTT mean that fans can also see the full range of the players’ talents on display, and the scoring system makes every match competitive, according to Fernandez. In WTT, the first team to reach five games wins each set, with a nine-point tiebreaker played if a set ends up in a 4-4 tie. One point is awarded for each game won and scoring is cumulative. If necessary, extended play and a “super-tiebreaker” determine the winner of the match.

“It’s exciting because you never feel like you’re ever out of it,” Fernandez said. “And as a coach, it’s great because I can get involved on the court and make a difference, in terms of strategy or approach, and I can call timeouts. It’s not like regular tennis where coaches sit in the stands and watch.”

Fernandez has a decorated roster of players to work with on the Empire as well, including top-10 men’s star John Isner, 2004 Olympic silver-medalist Mardy Fish and 19-time women’s doubles champion María José Martínez Sánchez of Spain. Their Sunday opponents, the Kastles, won five WTT championship in a row from 2011 to 2016 and feature identical-twin doubles tandem Bob and Mike Bryan.

The Empire’s 14-match schedule this season also includes “Play for Puerto Rico” on July 20. Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Fernandez’s native Puerto Rico. That night’s festivities will also feature music and food from the island, as well as special guests and a charity auction.

“It just adds to what will be a great season for us,” the coach said.

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