Downtown Tennis

From our friend Liz Clarke in the sports dept:

Rather than the traditional ribbon-cutting, it was a deftly placed forehand lob that inaugurated the soon-to-be home court of the Washington Kastles, the city's new professional sports team, yesterday. And it was hardly surprising that the ball arced precisely as intended, soaring over the TV trucks and landing on a vacant spot in the parking lot that occupies the site of the city's former Convention Center.

Billie Jean King, co-founder of the World TeamTennis League, was wielding the racket. And after helping unveil a rendering of the team's 2,020-seat temporary stadium during a midday news conference, she turned to Mayor Adrian Fenty and whispered a few tips on racket-face orientation as he prepared to lob the next ceremonial ball.

Now 64, King retired from tournament tennis in 1983, having won 39 Grand Slam titles. But her life remains consumed by the sport, whether evangelizing about the merits of a team-based approach to the game or instructing young and old, mayoral and not, on how to play.

"Our dream is of men and women competing together, with an equal contribution by both genders," King explained of the league's co-ed format. "And what you're seeing is men and women cooperating and learning to get along with each other and help each other."

The Kastles kick off the first of seven home matches July 8. Former world No. 1 Serena Williams will supply the star wattage that night. After that, teammates Justin Gimelstob, Sacha Jones, Mashona Washington and Scott Oudsema will shoulder the workload.

The site for the Kastles' home court, smack in the middle of the resurgent Penn Quarter area, was the brainchild of Bethesda native Mark Ein, the local investor who owns the Kastles. With development plans in the works for the coveted tract of real estate, the parking lot will likely serve as the Kastles' home for only a season or two. But it embodies the value he and King hold most dear: accessibility.

Ein envisions the stadium, to be erected near 11th and H streets NW, becoming a magnet for workers as they file out of the office at day's end. It's near a Metro stop, convenient for those coming from other parts of the region. And it's surrounded by restaurants.

D.C. Councilman Jack Evans gleefully recounted the transformation of Ward 2, noting that much of its rebirth was due to Verizon Center, home to Washington's Wizards, Capitals and Mystics. Now, he noted, come the Kastles.

"The only team we don't have are the Washington Redskins," Evans said. "And I gotta tell you, we're working on that, too!"

By Dan Beyers  |  May 1, 2008; 7:54 AM ET
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