Las Vegas Sun

August 22, 2019

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Las Vegas’ newest pro sports team focuses on entertainment, competitiveness

Bryan bros

Frank Augstein / Associated Press

Bob Bryan, left, and Mike Bryan celebrate winning their doubles tennis match Nov. 13, 2017, at the ATP World Finals against Jamie Murray of Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil at the O2 Arena in London.

The flow of professional sports teams to Las Vegas continues, with another new franchise joining the fray. The Las Vegas Rollers of World TeamTennis began their inaugural season July 14 in Orlando, Fla., and will make their home debut July 20 at Orleans Arena.

“The league thought it was important to get a couple new teams,” says Sally Dewhurst, general manager for the Rollers. “With Vegas’ new identity as a sports mecca, it was an obvious choice. There’s quite a big tennis community in Las Vegas, with the history of Michael Chang and Andre Agassi. The league is all about highly competitive tennis but also about having fun and entertainment.”

Here are five things to know about the Rollers and World TeamTennis as the league brings its four-colored calico court to town for the first time.

Las Vegas Rollers home schedule

• Saturday, July 20: Springfield Lasers

• Sunday, July 21: Philadelphia Freedoms

• Tuesday, July 23: New York Empire

• Thursday, July 25: Orange County Breakers

• Sunday, July 28: San Diego Aviators

• Monday, July 29: Washington Kastles

• Tuesday, July 30: Orlando Storm

All matches at Orleans Arena

• Tickets: $14-$182 through ticketmaster.com or Boyd Gaming resorts box offices

Star power

Glance at the Rollers’ roster and you’ll know this is no minor-league undertaking. Players on World TeamTennis franchises get one of two roster designations: They’re either “core players,” eligible to appear in every match, or “marquee players,” who can play in a limited number of matches.

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Harriet Dart prepares to receive serve from Ashleigh Barty in a women's singles match July 6 at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London.

The Rollers have recognizable names on the core roster, including local product Asia Muhammad and 22-year-old British phenom Harriet Dart, but their marquee players are particularly notable. They include Bob and Mike Bryan, identical twins who form the winningest doubles team of all time, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig and 2017 Wimbledon semifinalist Sam Querrey.

The Bryan brothers will play in home matches July 20-21, with Dart slated to appear in all remaining matches. Querrey is scheduled to play in four home matches, July 20-21, 23 and 25, with a match in San Diego July 19.

Fast-paced play

Throw out the customary International Tennis Federation rules; World TeamTennis has its own standards. Most of the differences are implemented to speed up the product. Most notably, there’s no requirement to win individual games within a set by two points. If a set gets to 3-3—what’s typically referred to as 40-40 or deuce—there’s a sudden-death point to determine the winner. (Sets must still be won by two games.) “Lets” are also played, meaning if a serve hits the top of the net yet still lands in the service area, it’s a live ball.

“It’s really challenging for the Tour players, because it’s not what they’re used to,” Dewhurst says. “But that makes it fun, different.”

World TeamTennis matches consist of five sets: men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles.

The season mirrors the on-court action, as it goes quickly and wraps 14 matches per team in 20 days. The schedule is strategic, falling between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to allow high-profile players to participate.

Focus on fun

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Asia Muhammad returns a shot Aug. 27, 2018, during a tennis match at the U.S. Open against Maria Sakkari at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

LMFAO singer RedFoo serves as the Rollers’ assistant coach, indicative of the league’s vibe. It’s more than simply sports. World TeamTennis as a whole—and the Rollers specifically—want to be at the intersection of sports and entertainment.

“Usually, tennis is very quiet and you have to be on your best behavior,” Dewhurst says. “World TeamTennis isn’t like that. This is tennis amplified.”

Dewhurst promises a Cirque du Soleil-like opening ceremony to kick off the season and other entertainment offerings between matches. RedFoo fans can catch the artist warming up with the team pregame. He was a decorated juniors player as a teenager before injuring his wrist and switching his focus to music.

As assistant coach, he’s the Rollers’ second alternate player. In the event of an injury, head coach and former UNLV champion Tim Blenkiron would first be pressed into action, followed by RedFoo.

“He’s a very, very good player,” Dewhurst says of RedFoo. “He’s extremely involved. He’s [even] been at Wimbledon watching his players.”

Lots of history

A group that included all-time great Billie Jean King founded World TeamTennis in 1973, and the league continued, apart from a two-year break in 1979 and 1980.

Many tennis legends have participated in World TeamTennis over the years, including Agassi, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Serena Williams, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.

The league has swelled as large as 20 teams before slimming down to only six the past three seasons. The new ownership group aims to eventually increase back to 12 teams, with this year’s expansion franchises in Vegas and Orlando.

The Washington Kastles are World TeamTennis’ most storied franchise. They formed in 2008 and won five straight titles from 2011 to 2015, going undefeated in back-to-back regular seasons to start the run.

The Kastles, who have Venus Williams on their marquee roster this year, play the Rollers at Orleans Arena on July 29.

Home-court advantage

Half the league will advance to the World TeamTennis playoffs, which have traditionally been hosted by the team with the best regular-season record. That won’t be the case this year.

When Las Vegas was awarded its expansion franchise, players spoke in favor of holding the final three matches here, Dewhurst explains. “The players love to come here and have fun after they’ve been on the road, so it was just a natural fit,” she says.

It also will make for a natural advantage for the Rollers if they make it that far. The semifinal round is scheduled for August 2 at Orleans Arena, with the championship set for the next day.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.